Archive | Issues

Policy Report for GEA, June 2014

FEMINISM, GENDER & UNIVERSITIES: POLITICS, PASSION & PEDAGOGIES (London: Ashgate 2014)

Miriam E. David

www.ashgate.com/sociology/9781472437112

Feminist scholarship, feminist knowledge and feminist pedagogies are all celebrated in this book and I hope to tempt you to read the book and engage with the arguments by offering you some of the examples of how these have developed in higher education over the last 50 years. I make a plea for more careful attention to education and how the processes of knowledge-making influence (and are influenced by) gender and sexual relations and how we need to maintain our vigilance in these times of neo-liberal austerity and campaign for transformations against gender and sexual violence in education and the wider society.

My main aim has been to demonstrate how feminism has become an educational as well as political project and, in particular, the robust and positive impacts that feminism has had on higher education. I also look at the ways in which issues around gender equality in education have come onto the agendas of higher education and wider socio-economic and political systems, and what both the opportunities and obstacles to further gender equality in higher education are. How can we create a feminist-friendly future? How do we transform current business and managerial approaches to higher education and neo-liberal tendencies to ensure that feminist knowledge and feminist pedagogies are a continuing source of transformative potential? What kinds of policy changes do we want to advocate?

Using feminist methods of biography, life stories and narratives, I set out to develop a life history and collective biography of feminist activism in academe. Being totally passionate and committed to feminism, I sought out many social networks in higher education across the generations. So this is a partial study in every sense: partial to feminism and partial in that it is about a small group of pioneering pedagogues in academe. I drew on many networks such as the Bristol Women’s Studies Group (BWSG) in which I was involved in the 1970s, the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (FWSA), the Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE), sociology of education, linked through the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and especially the Gender and Education Association (GEA) in which I had been involved since its beginnings. I also reached out to international feminist educators and talked to over 100 activist academics in humanities and social sciences, illustrative of the changing forms of global academe in changing socio-economic contexts.

I identified three generations or cohorts of feminists to reveal what a life-changing experience feminism has been and how important education, especially higher education, has been to this. While the three generations have different biographies, in that increasing numbers are ‘first-in-the-family’ (and not only from the working classes) to go to university, all talk with passion about how feminism transformed their lives in both in the family and through university. Through careful attention to the ways feminism has transformed academic feminists’ lives, across three generations of women entering higher education, the importance of creating feminist scholarship and developing feminist knowledge is illustrated. Not all agree that they are ‘second-wave feminists’, nevertheless all feel that they are part of a ‘new wave’, whether wave refers to air, hair, or sea. I discuss critiques of the wave analogy.

Most of the oldest cohort, women born before or in the shadows of the Second World War tended to sign up more to being second wave when ‘the second wave broke on the shores of academe’, to use Lorna Marsden’s lovely phrase; whilst the second cohort (those born in the 1950s and early 60s) were part of ‘the ripple effects of second wave moving into academe’ and saw themselves as ‘riding the waves’; the third cohort (those born from 1965 up to 1980) were ‘on the crest of the wave of academic feminism’ with all the contradictions of being in the neo-liberal global academy today.

Examples of how feminism is central to these feminist activists’ identity include:

  • ‘It changed my life’
  • ‘Feminism has been my life project’
  • ‘My entire life has been shaped by feminism…at university…it was the beginning of the women’s movement…we women were a small minority’…
  • As a scholar I write from a feminist perspective…
  • I began to self-identify as a feminist when I was a graduate student in 1970…Feminism is woven through every fibre of my being…My family were not impressed…

There are differences across the generations in the personal and political influences on becoming feminists. An example from the first cohort is that feminism came after being a student and was initially about political action rather than university influences:

‘I went to university in London …in the late 1960s…I became a feminist when I went to do an MA at Louisiana State University from 1969 to 1971. I read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and immediately joined the National Organisation of Women (NOW) and consciousness-raising and campaign groups…I still am a feminist but think that things have got more rather than less difficult in academe…’

Women in the second cohort tended to struggle with feminism as part of their intellectual identity and through being in the academy:

‘Feminism has been absolutely central to my life. It allowed me to gradually gain a perspective on Catholicism that eventually allowed me to leave the established church. For a long time I felt that the intellectual, theological knowledge was battling with my intellectual feminism. I would say that through the twists and turns of my life the one intellectual endeavour that I have never doubted is my feminism. I passionately believe in a person’s right to equality and especially to have freedom over their bodies. I would say that I still teach from a feminist perspective…and it informs my personal life profoundly…’

Women in the third cohort tended to learn their feminism as undergraduates and developed this through good inclusive pedagogical experiences. This is the case for both mature students and for those women attending elite universities at the traditional age for undergraduates:

‘I became a feminist during university (as a mature student at Middlesex after an Access to HE course) mainly through my own reading…good experiences taught me about inclusive pedagogies. Feminism has been crucial to my learning – indirectly and explicitly-eg when I was in a women’s aid refuge I first explicitly encountered feminism and this was a life saver in terms of understanding and making sense of my traumatic experiences of domestic violence-and also learning about my rights and my position as a woman- this was strengthened at university when I started to read feminist theories for my coursework-theory has been more directly influential to me than activism…’

And contrast with:

‘I became a feminist at university. I went to an all girls’ school and moved to a mixed environment at Cambridge. In my college I was the only girl of the 14 doing Maths in my year. Some other students and tutors had sexist attitudes. I guess this is what provoked the move…the influence has been huge-most obviously in my work but also in how I dress, what I eat, my friendships…I do not do much feminist activism…more urgent is peace but feminism in daily life eg teaching…women’s studies came gradually…’

Altogether, feminism has enabled them to become the passionate teachers in global academe, and continues to help them to struggle against the changing and constraining conditions of the neoliberal academy. Feminism helps to resist the more overt misogyny that now pervades global academe, despite changes toward gender equality in numbers of undergraduate students. I discuss how feminists’ struggles achieved gender equality in education on the international public policy agenda but how the notion of gender equity has now been incorporated into neo-liberalism and managerialism and lost its critical and radical edge.

Gender equality in higher education amongst undergraduate students has become a numbers game and ‘metrics mask misogyny’. Gender equality amongst academics globally as well as nationally remains a chimera, as the EU’s nicely named She Figures illustrate. We need to transform ‘the rules of the game’ in higher education to move beyond continuing masculine domination of leadership and management in global higher education. We also need to transform education more generally to raise more respectful and inclusive men and women and combat increasing sexual and gender violence: the so-called lad culture of higher education today. Raising questions about what the implications for a feminist-friendly future the changes in the socio-political and economic contexts have been, I argue for policy and practice changes in universities and wider systems of schooling today.

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ESRC Seminar Series: “Researching Girls and Sexuality: Affect, the digital and the body”

affectdigitalbody
affectdigitalbody

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The Naturalisation of Everyday Sexism and Violence

By Nancy Lombard, Glasgow Caledonian University

 

The FRA study from the EU agency for Fundamental Rights released last Thursday did the usual rounds with the same old figures: 1 in three women have experienced abuse in their lifetime, 1 in 10 within the last 12 months.  We know this; we can recite these figures off by heart. The report is simply more evidence of the pervasive extent of women’s experiences of violence that is so engrained in our societies.

Liz Kelly once said that the continued recognition of the magnitude of violence against women results in further normalisation rather than leading to resistance.  We know globally, nationally and locally men’s violence against women is an endemic social problem and an enduring human rights issue within all societies and cultures (Amnesty International, 2004; Bond and Philips, 2000). The prolific extent of male violence against women is confirmed by official data, reproduced worldwide, year after year.

I have been a volunteer, activist and researcher in the field of violence against women since I was 18. My most recent research looked at what primary school children think about men’s violence against women. When I was writing up the research I reflected upon what sociologist Ann Oakley calls my autobiographical path, thinking about why I became interested in this field.

Often women become involved in the area of working against men’s violence because of direct experience but I had always assumed that I was not one of them, as I didn’t have any personal history. However when I sat down and reflected I was shocked, not only by the list of abuses I had experienced, but by my normalisation and minimisation of them – and how I still remained affected by them. Kelly (1988: 23) claims the experience and /or naming of violence is not always an immediate or present one, rather it can be ‘experienced by the woman or girl at the time or later, as a threat, invasion or assault’. My own recalled experiences of abuse included: physical abuse, experiences of coerced sex, flashing and indecent exposure, sexual assaults, physical assaults, verbal sexual abuse. Being aware of my own normalisation of personal experiences of violence made me acutely sensitive to the young people’s narratives of their own experiences and conceptualisations of men’s violence against women.

When I spoke to boys and girls aged 11 and 12 I asked them about what they understood violence was, about why it happened and why. I also spoke to the young people about their own lives, their friendships, their experiences. For the majority of young people violence was something that happened in a public place, between adult men who were physically fighting. Crucially there were visible injuries and official intervention and consequence. That is the men’s behaviour was stopped, they were told they were wrong and suffered consequence (such as jail). This same sequence was replicated at school. Boys would physically fight in public and be told by the teachers or playground assistants that their behaviour was wrong and they were chastised for it.

But that didn’t happen for the girls. Girls told me about of a multitude of experiences; of being pushed, shoved, kicked, followed, called sexualised names from their male peers. These examples did not fit the standardised constellation structure of ‘real’ violence: age (adult); gender (man) space (public) action (physical) and crucially, are generally without official reaction or consequence. Time and time again the girls – when they approached teachers or those in authority were dismissed for telling tales, ignored because of the ‘trivial’ nature of their complaint or relayed that old adage, ‘he’s only doing it because he likes you’. Thus their experiences were minimised and the behaviours, normalised.

This not only results in girls being unable to access a framework by which to make sense of their own experiences, but it also serves to invalidate and minimise many of their own experiences of violence and violent behaviour which is then replicated in their adult lives where much behaviour is seen as what Dobash and Dobash (1992) termed the ‘everyday interactions’ between men and women; the everyday sexism documented here.

The feminist project of ‘naming’, ‘involves making visible what was invisible, defining as unacceptable what was acceptable and insisting what was naturalized is problematic’ (Kelly, 1988: 139). It enables women to name, understand and challenge what had happened to them, by moving the private into the public domain and shifting the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

For me this also explains why countries such as Denmark and Sweden had higher figures for men’s violence against women in the recent study. Those countries with greater levels of gender equality are more likely to provide ‘official’ recognition for women which enables them to not only name but also define their experiences as violence.

We need to start acting upon these figures, rather than finding different ways of presenting the same old story. Preventive education and public awareness campaigns to encourage resistance to violence are essential. But we also need to challenge the normalisation of violence. We must contest the dynamics in heterosexual relationships where men’s power over women is naturalised, normalised and used as a justification both of and for the violence.

 

 

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The Naturalisation of Everyday Sexism and Violence

The Naturalisation of Everyday Sexism and Violence

By Nancy Lombard, Glasgow Caledonian University

 

The FRA study from the EU agency for Fundamental Rights released last Thursday did the usual rounds with the same old figures: 1 in three women have experienced abuse in their lifetime, 1 in 10 within the last 12 months.  We know this; we can recite these figures off by heart. The report is simply more evidence of the pervasive extent of women’s experiences of violence that is so engrained in our societies.

Liz Kelly once said that the continued recognition of the magnitude of violence against women results in further normalisation rather than leading to resistance.  We know globally, nationally and locally men’s violence against women is an endemic social problem and an enduring human rights issue within all societies and cultures (Amnesty International, 2004; Bond and Philips, 2000). The prolific extent of male violence against women is confirmed by official data, reproduced worldwide, year after year.

I have been a volunteer, activist and researcher in the field of violence against women since I was 18. My most recent research looked at what primary school children think about men’s violence against women. When I was writing up the research I reflected upon what sociologist Ann Oakley calls my autobiographical path, thinking about why I became interested in this field.

Often women become involved in the area of working against men’s violence because of direct experience but I had always assumed that I was not one of them, as I didn’t have any personal history. However when I sat down and reflected I was shocked, not only by the list of abuses I had experienced, but by my normalisation and minimisation of them – and how I still remained affected by them. Kelly (1988: 23) claims the experience and /or naming of violence is not always an immediate or present one, rather it can be ‘experienced by the woman or girl at the time or later, as a threat, invasion or assault’. My own recalled experiences of abuse included: physical abuse, experiences of coerced sex, flashing and indecent exposure, sexual assaults, physical assaults, verbal sexual abuse. Being aware of my own normalisation of personal experiences of violence made me acutely sensitive to the young people’s narratives of their own experiences and conceptualisations of men’s violence against women.

When I spoke to boys and girls aged 11 and 12 I asked them about what they understood violence was, about why it happened and why. I also spoke to the young people about their own lives, their friendships, their experiences. For the majority of young people violence was something that happened in a public place, between adult men who were physically fighting. Crucially there were visible injuries and official intervention and consequence. That is the men’s behaviour was stopped, they were told they were wrong and suffered consequence (such as jail). This same sequence was replicated at school. Boys would physically fight in public and be told by the teachers or playground assistants that their behaviour was wrong and they were chastised for it.

But that didn’t happen for the girls. Girls told me about of a multitude of experiences; of being pushed, shoved, kicked, followed, called sexualised names from their male peers. These examples did not fit the standardised constellation structure of ‘real’ violence: age (adult); gender (man) space (public) action (physical) and crucially, are generally without official reaction or consequence. Time and time again the girls – when they approached teachers or those in authority were dismissed for telling tales, ignored because of the ‘trivial’ nature of their complaint or relayed that old adage, ‘he’s only doing it because he likes you’. Thus their experiences were minimised and the behaviours, normalised.

This not only results in girls being unable to access a framework by which to make sense of their own experiences, but it also serves to invalidate and minimise many of their own experiences of violence and violent behaviour which is then replicated in their adult lives where much behaviour is seen as what Dobash and Dobash (1992) termed the ‘everyday interactions’ between men and women; the everyday sexism documented here.

The feminist project of ‘naming’, ‘involves making visible what was invisible, defining as unacceptable what was acceptable and insisting what was naturalized is problematic’ (Kelly, 1988: 139). It enables women to name, understand and challenge what had happened to them, by moving the private into the public domain and shifting the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

For me this also explains why countries such as Denmark and Sweden had higher figures for men’s violence against women in the recent study. Those countries with greater levels of gender equality are more likely to provide ‘official’ recognition for women which enables them to not only name but also define their experiences as violence.

We need to start acting upon these figures, rather than finding different ways of presenting the same old story. Preventive education and public awareness campaigns to encourage resistance to violence are essential. But we also need to challenge the normalisation of violence. We must contest the dynamics in heterosexual relationships where men’s power over women is naturalised, normalised and used as a justification both of and for the violence.

 

 

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Are you interested in becoming a book reviewer for the Gender and Education Journal?

Are you interested in becoming a book reviewer for the Gender and Education Journal?

The Gender and Education journal are currently inviting scholars to review the texts outlined on this list. If you would like to review one of these texts then please do contact the reviews editor: Dr Alexandra Allan (A.J.Allan@exeter.ac.uk).

We usually ask for reviews to be completed within two months of the text having been received, but we can negotiate deadlines where needed. Please see our additional guidelines for further advice on length and types of review and expected style.

In addition, please do get in touch with the reviews editor if:

  • You are an author of a text which you would like to have reviewed in the Gender and Education journal
  • You are aware of/have recently read a text which you think should be reviewed in the Gender and Education journal

Books for review:

1) Kosmala, K. (2013) Imagining Masculinities: Spatial and Temporal Representation and Visual Culture. London: Routledge.

2) Swartz, C. and Arnot, M. (2013) Youth Citizenship and the Politics of Belonging. London: Routledge.

3) Bradley, H. (2013) Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.

4) Fuller, K. (2013) Gender, Identity and Educational Leadership. London: Bloomsbury Press.

5) Hearn, J., Blagojevic, M. and Harrison, K. (2013) Rethinking Transnational Men: Beyond, Between and Within Nations. London: Routledge.

6) Cooper Stoll, L. (2013) Gender in the Classroom: Teachers, Privilege and Social Inequalities. Plymouth: Lexington Books.

7) Sharma, S. (2013) Reclaiming Education in Transformative Spaces. London: Bloomsbury Press.

8) Jones, D and Evans, R. (2013) Men in the Lives of Young Children: An International Perspective. London: Routledge.

9) Evans, M. and Williams, C.H. (2013) Gender: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge.

10) Malabou, C. (2011) Changing Difference. Cambridge: Polity Press.

11) Hampton, E. (2013) Anay’s Will To Learn: A Woman’s Education in the Shadow of Maquiladoras. Texas.

12) Pierre-Moreau, M. (2011) Les Enseignants et le genre: Les inegalites homes-femmes dans l’enseignement du second degre en France et en Angleterre. Paris: Press Universitaires De France.

13) Egan, R. D. (2013) Becoming Sexual: A Critical Appraisal of the Sexualisation of Girls. Cambridge: Polity Press.

14) Spade, J.Z. and Valentine, C.G. (2014) The Kaledioscope of Gender: Prisms, Patterns and Possibilities. London: Routledge.

15) Tice, K. (2012) Queens of Academe: Beauty Pageantry, Student Bodies and College Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

16) Bae, M.S. and Ivashkevich, O. (2013) Girls, Cultural Productions and Resistance.

17) Nairn, K., Higgins, J. and Sligo, J. (2012) Children of Rogernomics: A Neoliberal Generation Leaves School. Dunedin: Otago University Press.

18) Taylor, Y. and Addison, M. (2013) Queer Presences and Absences. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

19) Brown, R.N. and Kwayke, C.J. (2012) Wish to Live: The Hip Hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader. New York: Peter Lang.

20) Livholts, M. (2012) Emergent Writing Methodologies in Feminist Studies. London: Routledge.

21) Bleich, D. (2013) The Materiality of Language: Gender, Politics and the University.

22) Maxwell, C. and Aggleton, P. (2013) Privilege, Agency and Affect: Understanding the Production and Effects of Action. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

23) Duckworth, V. (2014) Learning Trajectories, Violence and Empowerment amongst Adult Basic Skills Learners. London: Routledge.

24) Coleman, R. and Ringrose, J. (2013) Deleuze and Research Methodologies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

25) Thayer-Bacon, B.J., Stone, L. and Sprecher, K.M. (2014) Education Feminism: Classic and Contemporary Readings. New York: SUNY.

26) Spatig, L. and Amerikaner, L. (2014) Thinking Outside the Girl Box: Teaming Up With Resilient Youth in Appalachia. Ohio: Ohio University Press.

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Call for Papers: ‘Critical Diversities: Policies, Practices and Perspectives’, 10th -11th July 2014, Weeks Centre, LSBU

The ESRC Seminar Series ‘Critical Diversities @the Intersection’ (2012-
2014) has reflected a current wave of work within the social sciences,
humanities and arts, which offer new ways of conceptualising and
empirically researching ‘diversity’. Our 2-day conference hopes to build
on thoughts, presentations and debates, with keynotes including:

Prof. Kimberlé W. Crenshaw (UCLA) ‘Intersectionality, Research and
Activism’

Prof. Davina Cooper (University of Kent) ‘Imagining the state otherwise:
Between utopia and critique”

Prof. Tracey Reynolds (Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research,
LSBU) ‘Borders, ‘diversity’ and intersections: A black feminist reflections
on the everyday lives of black women in Britain’

We welcome papers from across the career stage and from outside
academia. There will be prizes, book launches & panels. Please send
abstract to: CriticalDiversities2014@lsbu.ac.uk

Registration details to be posted soon.  Conference cost will be £25 for two days, places limited!

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Relaunch of the Paulo Freire Institute-UK

Relaunch of the Paulo Freire Institute-UK

By Penny Jane Burke, University of Roehampton.  

The Paulo Freire Institute-UK (PFI-UK) has now been relaunched at the University of Roehampton as an interdisciplinary research centre, with particular interest in feminist engagements with Freirean perspectives, methodologies and pedagogies.

The PFI-UK is part of a large, international network of Paulo Freire Institutes worldwide, with its closest affiliation to the PFI-University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), headed by Professor Carlos Alberto Torres. This has led to fruitful collaborations, including the Biannual Forum Paulo Freire, with a core strand on gender and education, which was co-hosted by the PFI-UK and held at UCLA in September 2012. Additionally, the PFI-UK contributes to intensive sessions on feminist theories and methodologies and on gender and education as part of the PFI summer programmes held at University of Trento and UCLA. The PFI-UK aims to make a unique and significant contribution to the international PFI network, by engaging feminist reconceptualizations of Freirean approaches, as well as other critical perspectives, to explore the structural, cultural, symbolic and discursive dimensions of pedagogical relations and inequalities across intersecting differences and identities (such as formations of gender, class, ethnicity and ‘race’). The PFI’s research and pedagogies are deeply informed by Freirean and feminist praxis and methodologies.

As part of this, the PFI-UK has set up a Doctoral/Postdoctoral Network on Gender, Social Justice and Praxis, directed by Dr Lauren Ila Misiaszek. As a starting point, a small group of Founding Members will each work closely with and mentor an early career researcher to develop a small-scale project that makes a concrete contribution to the development of feminist approaches to education and pedagogy (for example, in the form of an online resource).  

The PFI-UK will have a relaunch event on the 6th June 2014 with keynote speaker Professor Carlos Alberto Torres, who will also launch his new book at the event: First Freire: Early Writings in Social Justice Education (soon to be published Teachers College Press). Discussants will include Professor Roger Dale, University of Bristol and Professor Penny Jane Burke, University of Roehampton.

PFI-UK aims to create dialogic and participatory spaces of praxis across national and local networks of teachers, educational practitioners and leaders, activists, artists, students, community groups and researchers dedicated to social justice in education. We hope that you will join us in developing this work!

For further information, please see http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/Research-Centres/Paulo-Freire-Institute/ and/or contact Professor Penny Jane Burke, Director of the PFI-UK, University of Roehampton.

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Review of Melissa Benn’s ‘What should we tell our daughters? The pleasures and pressures of growing up female’

By Professor Miriam E. David

Benn, Melissa (2013) What should we tell our daughters? The pleasures and pressures of growing up female (London: John Murray) ISBN 978-1-84854-827-1 pp 343 £20

Three cheers for Melissa Benn! Members of the Gender and Education Association (GEA) should be delighted to have such an excellent advocate of feminist work on women and education in today’s complex and contradictory society. Whilst this is a journalistic account, it is an engagingly written and pleasurable read about the dilemmas of being a woman in today’s increasingly pressurized, pornified or sexualised and hyper-capitalist society. What Melissa sets out to do is to provide a map of where we, as women are today, and what we can do for the future. She specifically wants inter-generational conversations about how feminists have dealt with the past and how that can frame arguments about how to work for a feminist-friendly future. She is not starry-eyed about the gains that feminists have made over the last century or so and sets those against the increasing gulf between rich and poor women, and the rise of the austerity culture. She decides to interrogate second-wave feminists mainly about what they have done, and what evidence they can muster about the changing culture, politics and society, together with some choice male writers and academics, to set an agenda for ‘our daughters’.  She organizes her arguments into three parts, each of which has an aphorism for its concerns: the first she calls ‘uneasy beginnings’, the second ‘promises, promises’ and the third ‘rebellions and resources’ and she has an epilogue which is her manifesto for the future.

From the perspective of educators and parents, mothers especially, the first part of the book is where she presents what we know today about schooling and higher education linked together with the increasingly important feminist work on sexuality, sexual abuse and the pornification of our culture for young women. She provides a quick romp through recent work on how girls are doing better than boys in educational achievements at school and university but how this poses a huge problem given the pressures to be a particular kind of sexually attractive woman almost to the point of becoming invisible. Girls have to be  good but thin in a tick box culture. She contrasts this evidence with the important work on how the culture of laddism – male, macho, popular and raunchy – is increasingly pervading higher education. She questions what advice mothers can offer their daughters about sex in this kind of culture of objectification and the myth of perfection. Here she revisits the debates about puberty and adolescence in the context of single-sex versus co-educational schooling and the changing role of fathers in relation to their daughters. And she relies on a couple of key male writers here for her evidence, ignoring younger feminist academics such as Emma Renold and Jessica Ringrose, who have done such sterling work on children’s gender and sexual cultures based on interviews. She also doesn’t think to question the young people themselves for their views about growing up and living in a sexualized and pornified culture. This might have been the start of an interesting new conversation about relations between the generations and the futures of feminist studies.

The second part of the book considers what we know about women’s adult lives today in terms of work or employment, sex and love, and balancing work and life: this last is what she calls breakpoint. Again she romps through some interesting work on graduate employment and looks at highly achieving women as professionals and corporate feminists. She uses as part of her title of the first chapter in this part of the book the title of Sheryl Sandberg’s liberal feminist manifesto Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and has written about, as the sub-title puts it, women, work and the will to lead. Melissa takes this as the starting point of her critique and yet also uses it seriously as others have also done, about female professional achievements in the business world such as Alison Woolf in The XX Factor . Melissa does also look at the downsides and raises important questions, for example, about sexual harassment at work. And she goes on to provide a sober reappraisal of feminism as not being about the corporate world but women entering an unequal world of work. This is followed by a chapter about changing forms of sexual relations in an increasingly neo-liberal society. Here she also discusses changing feminist critiques of women’s understandings of sexuality and their bodies. And she moves swiftly into changing forms of work and motherhood, so that work-life balances are no longer the same as they were for older generations of feminists, so-called vintage feminists. Indeed, her Melissa argues that we have reached ‘breakpoint’.

The final part of the book considers what we now know about how to campaign for change and how to effect that change. She reviews feminist evidence about the uses of political campaigning and argues that there is a need for anger, but that it can easily be subverted particularly in an internet age. She provides a long discussion of how women’s anger is, and has been socially unacceptable, using the phrase that ‘anger means social and romantic isolation, imprisonment in the attic of social unacceptability’. (p.244) So she recognizes how difficult it is for women to learn how to be confident and powerful feminists. However, this part of the book, it seems to me, is the weakest section, as Melissa seems to have lost the will for collective and political campaigning and is more concerned with addressing the question of how individual women need to learn resilience and confidence in an increasingly individualized and competitive society. And yet she tries in her final chapter to think through the new politics of campaigning in an age of austerity and one where more women now have entered traditional democratic politics. She does not consider here more local or community-based activism but focuses more on singling out some key feminists in trade unions and the dilemmas of being a woman Labour politician. But she does conclude that ‘…our daughters may need help and support in order to learn to speak up and speak out for themselves; collectively, we need to move away from the traditional rhetorical, quasi-Oxford-Union/parliamentary form of public discussion and explore other ways of holding conversations’.

This is one of the final boxed statements (see below) and it does seem to me to indicate a weakness at the heart of the project. This book is not for an academic and certainly not for an academic feminist audience. This is also clear in the manifesto in the epilogue. This is a short and poetic piece of writing, using feminist polemicists such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Toni Morrison, as well as addressing the question of ‘the exceptional woman who refuses exceptionality’, taking the term from Carol Gilligan. Here the book ends as an advice rather than campaigning manual to be read in a cosy armchair, perhaps with one eye on the ipad, internet, twitter or whatever.

Whilst this is a most important book, there are several problems with it. First and perhaps most importantly, whilst Melissa discusses anger as important to this feminist political project (in part 3) she tells us she shies away from anger and recognizes that this means that a broader feminist politics based on a thorough-going critique of a misogynistic or patriarchal culture is not what she intends. Hers is a liberal politics of cosy conversations. Second, and equally important is the selective use of evidence, without much explicit theory to explain it. Post-structural feminists might be surprised to note absolutely no references to Judith Butler! There is also no questioning of the younger generations of women, whether feminists or academics or both or none. Melissa is an excellent journalist and superb at summarizing a mass of evidence. I was totally in awe of her knowledge of a huge range of feminist books and texts, especially those that have come out in the 21st century, and mainly of the genre of market feminism, like the Fifty Shades of Feminism which was produced without any critical edge at all. But in the end this needs to be located in more critical theory not just represented as if it were now the truth. Third, and perhaps this is the key point – this book is for a large and wide market and it shows in presentation and style. The shocking pink cover print together with a naked girl covered with a towel is a most odd marketing device, as is the use of highlighted boxes of comment dotted across the text one of which I mentioned above. These are not in service to the bigger project of transforming the world for a feminist-friendly future.

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Boys and Girls Speak Out on Sexism and Sexual Harassment

Boys and Girls Speak Out on Sexism and Sexual Harassment

A report by Josie Austin and Helen Sivey of Cardiff University on the launch of Professor Emma Renold’s report on young people’s gender and sexual cultures for the National Assembly for Wales.

 

A dozen young people strode confidently past us into the Welsh Assembly Pierhead’s grand hall as we hovered around the imposing entrance. Like us, they were here to participate in the launch of Professor Emma Renold’s ground-breaking research report on 10-12 year olds’ gender and sexual cultures. This research will inform the National Assembly for Wales’ cross-party group on Children, Sexualities, ‘Sexualisation’ and Equalities.

The Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay
The Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay

Upon entering the hall we instantly noticed the friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and, having been handed the beautifully illustrated research report, joined the rest of the crowd. The audience consisted of an eclectic mix of people compared to the rather homogenous crowds we are used to at policy-related events, and included over 40 young people, and a range of academic researchers, teachers, third sector workers from local policy to domestic violence charities, policy makers and assembly members. However, it was the presence of young people themselves which made the event feel so different from other research launches, which all too often seem detached from young people’s lives.

The event was chaired by Jocelyn Davies (assembly member, Plaid Cymru), head of the cross party group, who opened the event and welcomed Professor Emma Renold to the stage. She  provided us with a reflexive summary of the research – a qualitative study which included 125 participants – and its sometimes unexpected findings. For example, we heard how for some girls looking older is not about being sexy – an assumption commonly made by adults – but about negotiating greater independence and feeling safe. Other findings included that children regularly experience sexual harassment, are often aware of sexism and desire social change, and that, instead of assumptions being made on their behalf, they want adults to listen to their experiences and viewpoints. Professor Renold concluded with how:

“Many children are critical and angry. They do want change. But they are also aware that just knowing something is sexist or abusive isn’t enough to stop it from happening. How to activate and sustain change is the challenge, and getting together like this, with young people, is one small step in that process. And while they are no quick fix solutions to cultural and societal change, there is a lot of desire from girls and boys themselves to make this happen”

From that last sentence, Professor Renold then introduced us to two school-based activist groups she had been working with for 6 weeks up to the lead-up of the launch. Their confident and captivating performances were the highlight of the event for many of us. First up were Merched Mentrus (Welsh for ‘girl power’), a feminist group from Plasmawr school, who provided us with a poignant performance of their poem ‘Mis(s) Seen’ (printed at the end of this article, and recently published in The Telegraph). The poem highlights the constant surveillance of young women’s bodies, and the group’s performance conveyed the conflicting emotions that these young women experience as a result of it so powerfully that it awakened affective responses in our own bodies. The poem concludes by offering an imagined future in which young women are judged on the basis of their abilities, not what they look like.

Next, students from the DIGON group performed a short drama based upon the key findings around boy-girl friendships and relationships . Ellie (who wrote the script) based each line on direct quotes from the research report and really brought the research findings to life. DIGON (which translates from Welsh as ‘enough’), is another group from Plasmawr School, who performed at the 2011 ‘Young People and Sexualities’ conference at Cardiff University (view the video here) They reflected on how this previous event had given them the confidence to continue their work. Their sketch focused on the casual but crushing homophobia and sexism encoded in school banter, and put across both the physical force and emotional pressure exerted amongst young people to enforce compulsory heterosexual relationships and behaviours. They will be taking this drama into primary schools over the coming year, and working with Emma to film the event and share with a wider audience.

Following these two creative responses using Professor Renold’s research findings, further reflections were offered by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, who somewhat jokingly, but mostly seriously, proclaimed his inability to perform to the standard of the young people we just saw, and representatives from the NSPCC (Jon Brown) and the equalities officer from the National Union of Teachers (Rosamund McNeil). They reiterated the importance of sexuality research which focuses on the views and experiences of young people, and reminded us of the dangers and restrictions associated with gender stereotyping.

The programme for the evening then had allocated time for a Q&A session with a panel of the adult speakers; however, Professor Renold suggested that we discard the proposed schedule of events and move directly to roundtable discussions led by the young people. She pointed out that we had heard a lot from adults so far this evening, and that it might be helpful to put the research principles and findings into practice by talking to one another directly, immediately. The apprehension in the room was palpable, but after some shuffling and coffee dispensing (by Professor Renold herself!), we arranged ourselves around tables and began talking.

We can’t imagine a more positive or productive way to enact the importance of engaging with and really listen to young people. And the young people we were speaking to had a lot to say, once given the space and respect to do so. We talked with young people from a range of schools about their experiences, about Tom Daley, being opinionated, and about what they think about adult interpretations of the relationship between young people and the internet. Dozens of similar conversations were filling the room, and when the time came to draw the event to a close, it was clear that nobody was ready to finish speaking. Listen to some of the children’s stories here.

We hope to continue to see more events like this where young people are more fully involved in shaping research agendas and communicating research findings and policy recommendations. We do know that Professor Renold is planning a second gender and sexuality children’s conference next summer (July 2014). Among the many interactive and peer-led workshops from sexism to sex education, she will be working with a dance choreographer so we will not just be sitting and talking, but doing and moving to connect with the research findings and create change. Watch this space.

MIS(S) SEEN

By Merched Mentrus,

In one day we can hear

‘you’re fat’, ‘FAF’, ‘slag’, ‘nice legs’, ‘nice bum’, ‘grown up’, ‘mature’, ‘cool’, ‘sexy’, boom’, ‘oy’, [wolf whistle], ‘slut’, ‘beautiful’, ‘hi ya princess’, ‘stuck up’ …

Our bodies are commented on, all day long,

With media telling us how to look, from zero size models and what not to wear, hearing a wolf whistle from an old guy in the street,

Can make you feel appreciated and downgraded

Uplifted and insecure

at the same time

Our bodies, commented on, all day long

Feeling good, feeling bad

It’s awkward, it’s hard.

Commented on, all day long

Wanting to tell someone, but nothing’s going to change

When you do tell someone, nothing does change

All day long

If we could press a button, would we want it to stop?

When we get value for how we look?

Bodies

How would it feel to be free of this?

What would it be like to be valued for what we do, not how we look?

Bright, free spirit, funny, feisty, caring, independent, clever, bubbly, understanding, creative, outgoing, sporty, determined, radical, adventurous,

These words make us feel good

How do they make you feel?

Are we just bodies?

Just bodies?

Merched Mentrus is a group of Year 12 girls – Awen, Ella, Ffion, Ffion, Georgia, Gwyneth, Rebekah and Sophie – from Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr, Cardiff

Josie and Helen are PhD Students and members of the Gender and Sexuality Research Group (GASP), School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University

 

 

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Gender and Education in the Asia Pacific: Possibilities and Provocations 9-11 December, 2014

Co-Convenors: Dr Emily Gray (RMIT University), Dr Anne Harris (Monash University) & Professor Julie McLeod (The University of Melbourne)

 

Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne

234 Queensberry Street, Parkville, Melbourne, Australia

 

The Gender and Education Association (GEA), in association with the University of Melbourne, Monash University, and RMIT University, is inviting abstracts for the 2014 Gender and Education Biennial Interim Conference

 

We would like to invite you to the Gender and Education Association Biennial Interim Conference, which is being held in the southern hemisphere for the first time. The conference focus reflects the complexities of Australia’s geopolitical location in the Asia-Pacific region, its history as colonised and coloniser, and its current position as part of both the ‘global north and the global south’.

 

The conference themes underscore the breadth of concerns and questions within the field of gender and education, the diversity of current challenges and emerging possibilities, and the pressing need to consider the relevance of context, place and history in understanding these matters.

 

We welcome abstract submissions for individual papers, symposia as well as ‘non traditional’ presentations, such as performance pieces, poetry and pecha kucha: http://www.pechakucha.org/.  Abstracts for single papers should be 250 words; and for symposia 250 words for each paper. For symposia, please include an overview rationale of up to 200 words.  Performance pieces and pecha kucha should also submit a description of the proposed presentation of 250 words.  All abstract submissions need to include the name of presenter/s, affiliation, title of presentation, a brief biographical statement of up to 50 words, and up to 5 keywords to describe the focus and themes of the presentation.

 

For more details including submission please visit the conference website: http://education.unimelb.edu.au/go/GEA2014#papers

or

e-mail enquiries or abstracts as Word documents to: gea2014@gmail.com

 

Deadline for submission: 30 April 2014

Confirmation of participation: by 16 June 2014

Call for Papers PDF

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