Feminism – Dune Scholar

Dune Scholar

Science Fiction, Feminism, and Digital Humanities All in One Place

Category: Feminism (page 1 of 2)

Digital Humanities Article

I am excited to share that my Digital Humanities article on digital literacy has been published in the open-access journal Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ) in a special issue (11.3) on undergraduate education. The article is titled “A Long-Belated Welcome: Accepting Digital Humanities Methods into Non-DH Classrooms” and argues that there is a place for DH methods in all Humanities classrooms and that women especially can benefit from increased engagement and confidence with digital technology in the subjects in which they comprise the majority of students.

I look forward to reading all of the other articles in this issue and appreciate being able to share it widely because DHQ is open access! Thanks to all those who have supported me in the two-year journey from start to finish.

Hidden Figures of Digital Humanities

Watching the film Hidden Figures reminded me of my research on women in computing and some of the gender issues in the field of Digital Humanities. In a discussion after the screening that I had both attended and helped to organize/promote with other women (as a special fundraiser to help create an undergraduate scholarship for a woman to study STEM), I mentioned how frustrating it was that women had been written out of the history of computing at large, not just in regards to the space program. It was only after seeing the quizzical looks on the women’s faces around me that I realized the presence of women in computing is not common knowledge either. The stereotype that seems to predominate in the popular culture is that computing belongs to Silicon Valley and male computer programmers.  I have been fortunate to have discovered more of women’s history in computing due to my involvement with Digital Humanities, but it is important that the involvement of women become more widely known. So I write this post as a brief introduction to some of the insights I have come across – to share with those who want to learn about some ‘hidden figures’ and to wonder about whose stories are still left to be discovered in the field of Digital Humanities. Because in fact, women have been instrumental to computing since the beginning…

Hidden Figures posterFor those who haven’t viewed the film (highly recommend! – nominated for three Academy Awards), Hidden Figures follows the stories of three African-American women – Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson – in the U.S. during the Space Race whose efforts in computing, mathematics, and engineering were crucial to the success of the mission to put astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Each woman must overcome various obstacles including racial and gender biases in order to be taken seriously and be respected by her coworkers, and to succeed at her job. For example, one building lacks a bathroom for black women (bathrooms were segregated at this time), and it is not until this issue impedes on the mission’s ability to meet a deadline that something is done about it. The film showcases the genius and resourcefulness of these women whom I and others I talked to admittedly had never heard of before. This film did a great job of bringing their stories and brilliance to life.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), born Augusta Ada Byron, was a gifted mathematician who is now considered to be the first computer programmer, given that she wrote instructions for the first computer program, all the way back in the 1800s. She was the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron and his spouse, Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron. She met Charles Babbage, known as the father of the computer, when she was 17 and he mentored her and enabled her to study advanced math with a University of London professor. Although Babbage invented the difference engine and analytical engine, after Lovelace was asked to translate one of his articles, she added her own ideas about his machine which were about how codes could be used to handle letters and symbols, not just numbers. She also came up with a theory for repetition of instructions, now known as the looping process that modern computer programs use. Though few paid attention to her article when she was alive, she is now honored through the celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, first held in 2009.

*Source: Ada Lovelace Biography.com (2017)

Women Computer Programmers in the 20th Century

During World War II when there was a need for ‘human computers’ who could solve equations by hand and also program computers, women stepped up to fill these roles. Jean Jennings Bartik was one of six female mathematicians who created programs for a new machine belonging to the U.S. Army called the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), which was one of the first all-electronic general-purpose computers. Men built the hardware and circuits but didn’t think the programming was an important job. Bartik said in an interview in 2008 that even though the women were responsible for getting the machine to work the night before its first demo, they weren’t invited out to dinner the next day and weren’t named in the photos. They were basically invisible. Adele Goldstine was another key woman in the development of ENIAC who created a systematic method of programming and the program manual, yet has only recently been acknowledged for her work in the field.

After the war was over, Bartik and her team moved on to the UNIVAC, a major commercial computer. They worked with Grace Murray Hopper, who was a tenured math professor in the Navy Reserve. Hopper discovered a way to program with words instead of numbers, which became a programming language known as COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) that is still used today. She retired from the Navy with the rank of rear admiral and is sometimes known as being the Queen of Software for her work in developing programming languages. There was even a 1967 article called “The Computer Girls” in Cosmopolitan magazine which quoted Hopper as comparing programming to planning a dinner, where you have to plan ahead and schedule everything.

Computer Girls magazine article

“The Computer Girls” article in Cosmopolitan magazine

She said women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming and her goal was that all people should be able to use and program computers. Another woman who worked on the UNIVAC, Adele Mildred Koss, actually found that working in computing was quite accommodating to female programmers who were mothers, making a work-life balance more possible. Many women did not actually have formal training in computing but took advantage of the opportunities that it provided and found success.

*Sources:

Further information: 2014 documentary film Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II and interactive iPad book app The Computer Wore Heels

Women in Early Digital Humanities

This brings us to the history of women in the field of Digital Humanities. For those who haven’t heard of Digital Humanities, it is a relatively new field which sits at the intersection of digital technologies and the humanities (like English literature, philosophy, and history). It sometimes functions more like the sciences in terms of having labs and teams rather than individuals working alone, and can include projects that involve making websites for cultural material, using databases, creating network analyses, examining social media, and doing other tasks that further the study of human culture and generate new ways of teaching and researching. Before it was known as Digital Humanities, however, it was sometimes called Humanities Computing, and its history goes back to the 1940s with its father, Father Roberto Busa in Italy, and what is considered to be the first Digital Humanities project.

Father Busa was a Jesuit priest who thought that the newly developing computing technology could be harnessed to help him create an index of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. He went to the U.S. to visit Thomas J. Watson at IBM and received some assistance to process punchcard data to make his index, which included some 9 to 11 million words of medieval Latin. What is often left out of this story is the fact that Father Busa then employed dozens of women to do the programming, and he proudly believed he was helping them attain valuable job skills through their work on the project. I only know about these women due to Digital Humanities scholar Melissa Terras’ work on uncovering the stories of these women. In fact, she has written a blog post (for Ada Lovelace Day, 2013) about her research, which included traveling to Italy and obtaining permission to share several photos of the women with permission from the CIRCSE Research Centre at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy with a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-NC), which are also in the blog post. I have included three of them here:

Women in Busa Project

Women working on Father Roberto Busa’s index project (1950s-60s) CC-BY-NC CIRCSE Research Centre

 

Women in Busa Project

Women working on Father Roberto Busa’s index project (back left: Rosetta Rossi Bertolli; bottom right Livia Canestraro) (1950s-60s) CC-BY-NC CIRCSE Research Centre

 

Women in Busa Project

Livia Canestraro working on Father Roberto Busa’s index project, being overseen by visiting dignitaries (1950s-60s) CC-BY-NC CIRCSE Research Centre

(This last photo is my favorite, with Ms. Canestraro reminding me of Princess Leia, surrounded by men but seemingly unperturbed.) I consider it a point of pride that women were so instrumental in working on this pivotal Digital Humanities project. But the pioneering work of women in computing leads me to wonder how we moved from women being so connected with computers to the present, where research continues to show that women often feel alienated from computing.

*Sources:

Disappearing Figures

Despite women’s instrumental roles as ‘computers’ themselves and as programmers, by the 1980s, when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates began to appear in the media and personal computers came about, the number of women who majored in computer science began to drop. From the 1980s to 2010, females went from being 37% of college students receiving bachelor’s degrees in Computer and Information Sciences to 18%. This happened even though the overall percentage of female college students was increasing and women were a majority.

There may have been several reasons proposed for this gender shift. Men may have wanted to get into the challenging tasks of programming and with their entry, the field may then have become more prestigious. Professional associations that excluded women may also have prevented them from entering the field. Personal computers were often marketed as toys for boys and the stereotype of the male computer geek became more prevalent in the popular culture.

In just a few decades then, computing and information technology became seen as male-dominated fields, and computing culture became decidedly more associated with masculine traits. The history of women’s achievements is only recently being recovered, with many girls and women unaware at how influential women have been in the field.

*Sources:

Where are the Women?

I see this as relating to Digital Humanities in that I have seen the field struggling recently with issues of diversity, access, and privilege, and that people are speaking out to try to address them. During Digital Humanities scholar Deb Verhoeven’s speech “Has anyone seen a woman?” at the 2015 Digital Humanities Conference, she boldly took the stage and called for men to exit it to allow more women to be heard and recognized. She was addressing the invisibility of women after a “parade of patriarchs” had dominated the stage on the opening day of the conference.

Deb Verhoeven speech

Deb Verhoeven’s speech “Has anyone seen a woman?” at 2015 Digital Humanities Conference

Soon her words ended up having a direct impact on me because just days later I was asked to speak on that very same stage at a small gathering of people for an annual meeting. At first I balked but then was encouraged by two men who were trying to heed her words, and it ended up being a positive experience. Her voice had raised the consciousness of many, and it helped persuade me that it was important for women to be heard even if they may not feel comfortable with public speaking.

Raising women’s visibility – both past and present – and reclaiming women’s history and stories is an important part of feminism; there are countless achievements to celebrate, from small to large. The question becomes how does a field like Digital Humanities avoid making the same mistakes as the history books have with the African-American women at NASA and women in computing? How does it avoid obscuring the labor that often goes on behind-the-scenes in Digital Humanities projects?

If we were to construct a narrative or timeline of women in Digital Humanities, what would it look like? How many ‘hidden figures’ in labs, teams, and projects might be in Digital Humanities?

A Week of Women in Australasia

During the week before International Women’s Day on March 8, I had the privilege of attending two events about women’s issues with a variety of women speakers, and so for an event that I spoke at on the day, I decided to summarize and share some of the points that these women had made with my audience. These points give an indication of some of the current topics that women are dealing with and raise questions about what the way forward is when women are still less visible and considered less valuable than men.

Indigenous Women and LeadershipIndigenous-women-forum

The first event was the Indigenous Women and Leadership Speakers Forum hosted by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. Sacha McMeeking, head of the University of Canterbury’s Aotahi School of Māori & Indigenous Studies, spoke about the difference between Western styles of leadership and Māori styles. The Western style is often about having a charismatic leader who is a type of hero figure, whereas the Māori style recognizes a distributed network with servant-based leadership, where the leaders are supposed to be in it not for themselves but for their community. Māori women, she said, have been doing things that the storybooks don’t tell because they are behind the scenes, but we can miss them if we’re looking for a leader at the front. I thought this was a useful way of thinking about issues of gender, because something that comes up quite often is the struggle for women, especially in male-dominated fields, between adopting ‘masculine’ styles or operating in a different way and perhaps being penalized for it. Shifting our conception of leadership and not thinking that there is only way to be a leader is a way of breaking out of that mindset.

The next speaker was the president of the Māori Students Association, Hana Skerrett-White, who reiterated that she is who is today because of a long line of strong women modeling leadership to her. She said leadership isn’t singular, and even though women’s voices and indigenous voices have been muted at times, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. The final speaker was Arihia Bennett, who is Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, and she encouraged young women to not wait until they’re older to step into leadership. She emphasized some characteristics of leaders that she thought were important, including competency, compassion, and character. She said to be confident, courageous, and speak your mind—don’t hold back—but also have someone alongside you to push you beyond your comfort zone. You can be humble while still recognizing that you have something to contribute, so listen to people who are encouraging you.

All About Women Satellite (#allaboutwomen)All-about-women-satellite

The second event was the annual All About Women Satellite streamed from the Sydney Opera House by WORD Christchurch. The actor Geena Davis spoke about women and the media, specifically how underrepresented women and girls are in films and television. She started a research institute to gather data and the results aren’t pretty. The good news is that the media is powerful and can be used to change people’s perceptions, and she said the year The Hunger Games and Brave movies came out (2012), girls’ interest in archery went up over 100%. Forensic science is attracting many women, even more than universities can keep up with, due to women in shows like CSI and Bones. But when it comes to the television shows made for children, the percentage of female characters is still pretty low, around 20%. This is similar to the percentage that women have stalled out at in other professions like engineering and IT. Crowd scenes are only about 17% female, making it seem like women don’t gather or aren’t valuable enough to be portrayed. The numbers are even worse in fiction than in real life, so women scientists and other women workers are a smaller percentage in media than in the real work force. There’s something called symbolic annihilation, which happens when you don’t see anyone who looks like you or reflects you. By feeding children this imbalance, she said, we are unwittingly teaching them that girls and women don’t matter as much or aren’t interesting.

Davis noted that overall, the ratio of men and women in film has remained about the same as it was in the 1940s, and when women are portrayed, they are often the sidekicks or romantic interest.  But although making changes in real life leadership, etc. are hard, she said that media could fix the problem it has created almost overnight if it changed to include more women. The next movies could show gender equality, show 50% women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, 50% women as presidents and members of parliament. One media producer has made the commitment to have 50% women crew behind the scenes as well, so that might be another way of driving change in the industry – for men in positions of power to commit to gender equality and actually follow through in their hiring practices.

Then there was a Nasty Women panel featuring Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Van Badham, and Lindy West, and chaired by Fauziah Ibrahim. They discussed a range of issues, including the need to stand together to gain strength and how to deal with trolls. West said that we have power and leverage only in numbers. If one woman stands up against sexual harassment in the office, she might be fired or ignored, but if every woman stands up against it, change can be more likely to happen. Abdel-Magied reminded everyone that historically it hasn’t been people in power saying Yes, we want to help the marginalized, it’s been masses of people demanding it. And if you’re fuming but don’t do anything about it, like contacting your representatives and talking to other people about the issues, nothing will change. West said that she tells people that running for office is not something that other people do, it’s something that’s part of civic responsibility. Regarding trolls, West said that it just wouldn’t happen that a panel of men would be sitting discussing Oh, yeah, I got a petition to have myself fired today, you know.. She said she’s tired of being told it’s just the internet, that’s the nature of how things are. We’re just trying to do our jobs, she said. The culture has to change. Badham said she would rather die on the right side than do nothing. When it gets hard, remember the women who went before you and the ones who will come after you. Women have died for the vote, for rights, for the freedoms we take for granted. Your actions are the most powerful political statement you can make, so make them count, she emphasized.

The broadcast is supposed to be made available sometime on YouTube.

Notes from Women’s Studies Association NZ Conference 2016

The following are my notes from the sessions I attended at the Women’s Studies Association (NZ) Pae Akoranga Wāhine Conference on September 1-2, 2016, at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The conference theme was Re/generation: New Landscapes in Feminism and Women’s Studies and the hashtag was #wsapaw16. There was a strong Māori presence throughout – I have never been to such a conference with so many songs (!) (in both Te Reo and English) as well as traditions and another language integrated smoothly into the proceedings. It was a welcome and uplifting experience, and it showed the power of relaxing some of the traditional academic stiffness and embracing bodily voices and movement. The conference is biennial so this will likely be the only one I am able to attend (I also presented a paper on science fiction: “Beyond the Womb: Imagining Life Without Pregnancy”), but it had a good vibe and supportive attendees. Kia kaha e hoa mā!

Day 1

Wahine Kia Mau: Reflections for Re/generation by Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku

On the first day, after the Mihi Whakatau / Welcome, there was a keynote from Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku. She provided a historical overview of her experience with feminism in New Zealand and offered sincere reflections about issues of biculturalism. She said she used to fret and worry about whether Māori women were in the room but now feels bad about this guilt-tripping of pakeha women. She said she is more mellow now and understands that Māori women have their own heroines and their own things to do, and that it is alright if they don’t always want to come to events. Apparently women’s groups have been harassed by engineering groups since the 70s, so it’s nothing new, and she was reprimanded by a senior female academic for publishing a piece on lesbianism, even though the person was a lesbian. She showed a headline from New Zealand Truth from May 4, 1982: “Lesbians Plan to Take Over NZ Town”. She mentioned Broadsheet, the collective, and Cherry Raymond, and she discussed when sexual violence became a big issue. She showed some examples of Pasifika Women’s Community texts: Tai: Heart of a Tree, Fast Talking Pt, Sai Figiel, Tail of the Taniwha, and Dream Fish Floating. She recommended the television show Transparent and asked the question: Would we benefit from Hilary Rodham Clinton or Helen Clark being elected? She discussed how institutional women’s studies was hijacked by the neoliberalism of the 1980s. But feminism is about community, and feminist scholarship and studies is an essential strategy and one to be proud of. Her final positive thought was that we (Māori) are no longer invisible. In response to a question about where does multiculturalism fit in a multicultural NZ going forward, she said that instead of the deficit talk (about jobs lost, etc.), she looks optimistically to the future at examples like Hawaii, where she did her PhD, where white people are in the minority.

Rape in New Zealand Newspapers: 1975-2015 by Ange Barton (Victoria University of Wellington)

Barton’s supervisor is Jan Jordan, whose project is Marsden-funded and who will be publishing a book on women’s experiences reporting rape to the police. Barton is searching through newspapers—New Zealand Herald, Dominion Post, The Press, Otago Daily Times, Sunday Start Times, Taranaki Daily News, and The Southland Times—looking at how women are represented and constructed in the articles regarding their relationship with the offender and the differences between newspapers’ accounts. Other aspects being looked at are what is gained from constructing women in this way, and what are the possibilities for action from this discourse. The project involves very laborious searching through microfilm. Also, keywords only come up in the feature articles, not the more minor crime reporting ones. Challenges in researching this kind of sensitive topic involve nightmares, loneliness, and mental and physical tiredness. Someone told her supervisor that if the research is so traumatising, then don’t do it, but this can be seen as the ultimate silencing technique. The National Sexual Violence Collective’s work on media in 2012 was mentioned as well.

Sexual Violence in Ethnic Minority Communities in New Zealand: Findings from Two Honours Project by Shannon Kumar and Setayesh Rahmanipour (University of Auckland)

Out of 56 countries, New Zealand rates the third highest for sexual assaults. The New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse shows that ethnic women had a lower rate of reporting an assault compared to European women. The Campaign for Consent based in Hamilton was mentioned. One challenge was there is no one definition of sexual violence. Western women might define it very differently from a non-Western women. Ex. catcalling. They discussed the need for education and awareness-raising within the wider community. Talking about sexual violence shouldn’t be discouraged. The major challenge is that there is a lack of data on ethnic women in New Zealand. Most studies are from the US or UK, or if from New Zealand, there is no information on ethnic women specifically. Wording is a big issue too. Using sexual violence is a strong term that women might not want to be associated with or own. It can be disempowering.

Sexual Violence in Ethnic Minority Communities: An Exploration of the Discourses of Violence and Vulnerability by Setayesh Rahmanipour (University of Auckland)

Rahmanipour mentioned there were three key themes in talking to women in ethnic minority communities: double silencing (in mainstream and by community), migrant defensiveness (maintaining cultural traditions), and discrimination (stereotypes and representation). Sexual violence is a silenced issue so a profile is difficult to establish, and it is under-reported even though rates are increasing. Sexual violence is often framed from a dominant or male gaze. Because there is no statistical evidence that there is a problem or funding for research to find out, it is not given funding or priority for government to address. There are issues of stigma, shame, and honor, as well as fear of community gossip (people understandably want to maintain their community reputation). But holding onto their culture can lead to being fundamentalist in their perception because they have little else to hold on to (white schools, friends, values, etc.). A defensiveness may emerge. Rahmanipour found it eye-opening that women sometimes are forced to marry their rapist because their family fears that they won’t be able to get married otherwise because they have ‘lost their virginity’. It was hard to believe it was happening in New Zealand but the interviews revealed that it was indeed happening.

Soapbox Session

The following six presentations were offered in a Soapbox session of shorter presentations by young women, some still in high school. The room was standing-room only and ‘Soapbox’ was talked about the rest of the conference because it was so enlightening, enjoyable, and refreshing to hear from such passionate, young feminists from all over the Pacific region.

The Prevalence and Impact of Intimate Partner Sexual Violence on Women in America and New Zealand, and the Barriers to Escaping and Reporting Intimate Partner Sexual Violence by Eliza Melling

The stereotype is that ‘real rape’ is the stranger in the darkened alley, rather than the often intimate partner violence that occurs in the U.S., New Zealand, and elsewhere. Why this matters is that it influences how the police view situations. Most victims know their offender. Melling referenced Themkin and Krahe’s (2008) Sexual Assault and the Justice Gap. She made a poster with a white bed ruffled with text of a rape myth on top (it’s impossible to be sexually assaulted by your intimate partner) and then the reality below (51.1% of sexual assault against women is perpetrated by an intimate partner or ex-partner). The bedroom is a private space so it is a powerful and controversial image. One of the audience members raised the issue of threats to animals being a barrier for women to leave or report. Also, there are threats with gun violence.

Ethnic Ambiguity: A New Beauty Myth? by Naomi Simon-Kumar (University of Auckland)

Simon-Kumar discussed how Caucasians are praised when they take on ‘ethnic’ characteristics like plumper lips and bigger butts, but ethnic women do not receive the same social benefits or are maligned for them. One poignant quote was: “Whiteness is the template on which desirable ethnic traits can be imprinted”. This occurs rather than celebrating hybrid identities. There were some questions about cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation. And Te Awekotuku made a comment about skinny women not being valued in Pacific cultures, yet there being high rates of anorexia among Maori and Pasifika girls.

A New Generation of Feminists by Ander Alrutz-Stierna (Auckland University of Technology)

Alrutz-Stierna has lived in many different countries and so witnessed all kinds of issues around gender. She said it is about privilege. One positive about New Zealand is that it has the smallest wage gap in the world. We no longer live in a Neolithic era, she said, so it does not make sense to go back to the biological, testosterone argument. Women can be creative too. She noted that the question we should ask ourselves as feminists today is: How can I change the world around me to create a better global community?

R. Tui discussing Samoan culture

She discussed some aspects of gender performance in Samoa, such as that it is acceptable for men to act like women (special term for this: fa’afafine) but not for women to be lesbians. In Samoan culture, daughters are sacred, so sons can get away with dropping out of school or sleeping around, but if a daughter is a lesbian, it is damaging to honor and pride. The religion teaches that God created a man and a woman. In the question time, there was a discussion about how British colonization changed cultures that previously had accepted same-sex relations (possibly Samoan, and African). Someone mentioned Betty Seal (sp?) (Samoan lesbian feminist in politics).

E. Ikiua discussing Pasifika customs

She discussed some customs in Pasifika culture, such as that the men are supposed to go first, which some in the audience couldn’t believe. Even smart women are expected to submit to their male relatives and stay quiet. She questioned the idea that the culture must remain static. It’s not the 1950s anymore. But the consequence for speaking out is that one would bring shame not only on themselves but on their family. Te Awekotuku commented that certain cultures do have ways of shaming and calling out men for their mistakes, though this may differ between Māori and Pasifika cultures.

C. Destrieux discussing stereotypes and new visions

She said she took it upon herself to educate herself about feminism and found it odd that other women she knows said they weren’t feminists. Stereotypes about bra-burning and hairy armpits were still present. She said that social media provides a great forum for women to talk and rant to other women, through blogs, etc. She then asked the audience about Emma Watson’s HeforShe campaign and whether they thought men can be or should be feminists. That sparked some lively discussion and debate, with some agreeing and others disagreeing.

Panel: Gender, Generation and Care

Chair: Associate Professor Christa Fouche (University of Auckland)

Women of LiLACS NZ: Life and Living in Advanced Age, a Cohort Study in New Zealand by Professor Ngaire Kerse (University of Auckland)

Kerse is doing a longitudinal cohort study of advanced ageing to establish predictors of successful ageing for Māori and non-Māori. She shared several slides of statistics and explained some of the findings. Older women are very likely to be living alone and unmarried. Men tend to be married. There are hardly any Māori women living in retirement villages. Over 70% of Māori women own their own home (a little higher than for non-Māori). Despite health issues, older women still have relatively high independence in instrumental activities of daily living (shopping, traveling, going out, cooking, etc.).

Mai Te Wairua, Ko Te Reo Aroha: Māori Kaumātua End of Life Care by Dr. Tess Moeke-Maxwell (University of Auckland)

Moeke-Maxwell showed a clip from a film about end of life care. She said there is a strong Māori cultural imperative to provide care at end of life and after death (body not left alone). One gay, single man ‘threw a tantrum’ about having to care, said that he would not have had to do it if he were straight. Heterosexual men seem to avoid the responsibility. Interestingly, at the end when care gets too difficult, men transfer care to women or residential care facilities. She said the palliative care sector should recognize that Māori cultural customs mean that the family want to provide 24-hour end of life care and facilitate this.

Gender & Class in New Zealand Care/Work Regimes by Dr. Katherine Ravenswood (Auckland University of Technology)

Ravenswood referenced a Huffington Post article on men spending more time caring for pets than for children [may be this one: “There’s No Gender Gap in Caregiving for Pets. So Why Is There a Gap for Child Care?”]. She said gendered norms of care work are deeply held and enduring. The New Zealand Police Force won an award for a campaign to encourage women to join the force by highlighting the caring work that police do. If capitalism is about what you can sell in the labor market for money, then care work was outside of this system and considered something that women did naturally at home, not in the factory.

During questions, there was one for Kerse about what she and her colleagues are doing as a result of what they have found in their cohort study. She said that they are providing information to the District Health Boards, but that as academics it is hard to do anything else and it isn’t their responsibility to do more, that other groups are working on this. It was disappointing to hear this, because there are limited resources for other groups (especially not-for-profits) and academics often have the knowledge and/or resources that others lack. Someone asked if there were any care facilities she would recommend or not recommend, and she says she tries to avoid recommendations, but she tells people that you’ll know as soon as you walk in the door, like if people are smiling and talking. Usually in life, in the places where good things are happening, there are always people there because they want to be there. Another person raised the issue of immigrant women being low-paid and taken advantage of, and that New Zealanders bear some responsibility for this because they gave care over to the private sector. They believed that people need to get angrier and raise this issue at the next election. The day then concluded with singing.

 

Day 2

The second day started with a panel on justice, which covered some contentious issues around the law.

Panel: New Directions in Justice

Feminist Knowledge and Legal Discourse by Professor Rosemary Hunter (Queen Mary University London) 

Hunter discussed her work on the feminist judging project. She mentioned the concept of ‘femocrats’, or women driving change from within government bureaucracy, which was especially prevalent in Australia and New Zealand in the second-wave.

Mary Jane Mossman’s article “Feminism and Legal Method” (1987) said that legal methods’ elements are categorization, precedent, and statutory interpretation (legislation). She argued these were impervious to a feminist argumentation or understanding. Carol Smart’s book Feminism and the Power of Law (1989) said that legal discourse is powerful and productive. It does not just prevent things, but actively produces its subjects. Who is the woman of law that the law produces? Part of the power of law is its ability to trump other accounts of law, like a feminist one. Sandra Burns’ book To Speak as a Judge (1999) saw judging as a particular type of performance and authority. It was impossible to have judgement and feminist speech. Feminist judgement was an oxymoron in a sense.

Hunter’s own book on Domestic Violence (Domestic Violence Law Reform and Women’s Experience in Court: The Implementation of Feminist Reforms in Civil Proceedings (2008)) looks at how the law does not view it in the same way that we as people understand it. It sees it as discrete events that have to be categorized. Even if we have feminist law reform, it ends up being administered by the usual legal personnel (still male-dominated field), which is a problem. And many of these people have no interest in deviating from business as usual and can make their own interpretations still. Example: discrimination law. The Feminist Judgments Project is about not waiting 200 years to see what would happen if there were more feminist judges. It was invented by a group of Canadians.

One question was how do you protect feminists against the retaliatory exclusion that this kind of project might elicit? For example, men basically blacklisting activist feminists from becoming judges. The conclusion was that feminists might need some kind of protection beyond the informal network of support.

Behind the Wire: Maori Women and Prison by Associate Professor Tracey McIntosh (New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence)

This was a similar presentation to the one McIntosh gave at a previous conference [see notes from Trans/forming Feminisms]. Two interesting things mentioned were that besides war, mass incarceration is one of the most effective government social programs of our time, and that it is important to work with like-minded as well as unlike-minded people to be able to learn.

Re-thinking Feminist Informed Criminal Law Reform by Associate Professor Elisabeth McDonald (Victoria University of Wellington)

McDonald first gave a warning that she would be talking about rape in her presentation. She said she is working with Rosemary Hunter on the Feminist Judgments Project. In New Zealand, the Court of Appeals has a rape band which includes a traditional rape definition as well as other forms. She is trying to get the government to allow sexual assault support advisors to be at the victim’s side throughout the process of the criminal justice system. The victim might be more comfortable disclosing details to that person, and that could become part of the record. She mentioned the case of Mr. Bourke in the Waikato region who was acquitted within an hour! There is a problem with prior sexual experience not being allowed to be argued, because this rule can also be used when prior experience might actually help support the victim’s case (ex. virginity, normally would not do certain things, being lesbian, etc.). There needs to be more nuance in the law or interpretation.

There was a question about if having a gender continuum rather than a binary (to be more inclusive of trans-women, for example) will mean that women’s issues and oppression might be lost. McDonald said that we have to ask ourselves what are we giving up by going down the gender-neutrality track and what kind of outcomes do we want. McIntosh later asked why it is that people with the least power are seen as the most dangerous, whereas judges with privilege and power say their hands are tied and they cannot do anything.

Growing up with Hardcore: Exploring the Meanings of Pornography in the Digital Age by Samantha Keene (Victoria University of Wellington) 

Keene discussed some of the challenges with doing research on the controversial topic of pornography, including the fact that there isn’t much research on it in New Zealand and that those who do research it are sometimes seen as deviant or dodgy. Virtual reality pornography now exists (through wearing a headset) and POV shot style pornography is rapidly becoming popular. What was once usually in written or magazine form has adapted to changing technology. She noted that the ‘sex wars’ over pornography in the second wave feminist movement are still going on today, and there is still fierce debate in the scholarship – either very anti- or pro-. There is a Netflix documentary “Hot Girls Wanted” exploring amateur pornography industry in the U.S. Three pornography sites sit within the top 100 websites in the world, as well as New Zealand. One in five young New Zealand women access pornography, so it is not just a guys’ thing. Her study aims to understand what people construct as pornography, the meanings that people attribute to it, and the gendered differences in those meanings. The encrypted, anonymous messaging platform Kik is being used, and there have been ethics issues regarding criminal activity. But this is something that criminologists often have to face, because people won’t be honest if they know they are incriminating themselves. It’s not unique to research on pornography.

Freddie Montgomery, Matrixial Trickster: Representing The Feminine in The Narratives of John Banville by Michael Monaghan (Dublin City University)

Monaghan presented an analysis of some of the work of John Banville, an Irish writer who is very popular at the moment in Ireland. He discussed ekphrasis, which is “a verbal representation of graphic representation” (Heffernan, 1991, pg. 299), Judith Butler’s “Bracha’s Eurydice” (2006), and The Matrixial Borderspace (2006) by Bracha Ettinger, an Israeli visual artist, philosopher, psychoanalyst, and writer. In simplified terms, one of Banville’s male characters kills a woman and then tries to come to terms with this through art. There is the issue of the male gaze (common in film, literature, and art). The takeaway appears to be to stop aestheticizing one’s view of women and one might be able to represent them in a better, less invasive way. One can then see a woman as a whole person, rather than an amazing specimen, for example.

Disrupting Misogyny on Social Media – A BYOD Workshop by Jenny Rankine (University of Auckland)

For this workshop, Rankine provided a brief overview of how social media can be used to build a media advocacy campaign within feminist and other activist groups, then advised participants to choose an issue and brainstorm ideas for funny memes that get a certain message across. The first step in setting up a campaign is to look at the themes in whatever you are upset about and unpack it, looking at the assumptions and worldview behind it. The second step is to develop a response. It needs to be funny if you want it to be shared. This could mean being whimsical, ironic, sarcastic, or parodic. You should focus on the contradictions because every dominant discourse has them and it is the best place to drive a wedge and make people think twice. The third step is to post it on lots of social media platforms and come up with a hashtag if it is on Twitter. Finally, you should evaluate whether it made a difference. This involves looking at the average likes and retweets for your platform so you can measure whether you were successful. You can also use Google reverse image search to see which ones were shared the most. It is a good idea to use non-copyright images (through free image sites like www.pexels.com, www.pixabay.com, www.freeimages.com, and Wikimedia Commons) or try meme generators. The max size is 600 x 600 pixels for Facebook and Twitter. The key is to be effective in a small space with few words.

Margot Roth Inaugural Lecture:
Feminist Futures in the Anthropocene: Sustainable Citizenship and the Challenges of Climate Change and Social Justice by Professor Priya Kurian (University of Waikato)

Kurian opened by defining the Anthropocene for those who were not familiar with the term. It is a term that was coined by biologist Eugene Stoermer in the early 1980s and popularized by chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000. It is the age where humans have become a destructive and disruptive force of conquering nature. Kurian also used other rich vocabulary like capitalics, which is “a politics fuelled by global capital” (Munshi and Kurian, 2005; 2009) and inchoate and knotty. She noted that New Zealand received “The Fossil of the Day Award” at the UNFCCC Conference in Paris in December 2015 for being among the worst performers of climate action. This surprised her students, who have the perception that New Zealand is one of the good ones. With the current hegemonic focus on things like climate change, it can lead to a muzzling of democratic avenues, as happened in Canterbury in the name of urgency. She acknowledged Rachel Carson from the 1960s as one of the women at the forefront of dealing with environmental degradation. All of the advice to use eco-friendly light bulbs, drive less, etc. tells us nothing about collaborative political action. An environmental group interrogated a political candidate recently for her personal choices on whether she drives and other environmental issues, without providing for context. A single mother, for example, might have reasons for why she has to make certain environmental choices. Kurian emphasized that sustainable citizenship is an active citizenship. She closed strongly by saying that we need messy democratic and egalitarian politics, because this will lead to feminist futures for all of us.

Notes from Gender Equality and Feminist New Practice in EU and Global Discourse

Resistance, Backlash and Power: Gender Equality and Feminist New Practice in EU and Global Discourse

International Symposium
European Union Centre Network NZ (EUCN NZ)
National Centre for Research on Europe (NCRE) and the University of Canterbury
April 1, 2016

Many thanks to Associate Professor Annick Masselot for organizing this symposium and extending a warm welcome to those of us who wanted to come and listen. It was an enjoyable educational experience with issues from both Europe and New Zealand that I had not considered previously. I took some limited notes and have assembled them below – several of the presenters have forthcoming books if you are interested in more details on their topic.

Revisiting Intersectionality under EU Anti-Discrimination Law: Lessons from the Crisis? A Critical Legal Studies Perspective
By Professor Dagmar Schiek (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Schiek discussed how efforts remain disjointed in EU anti-discrimination laws. There are gender experts, the disability lobby, and the European anti-racism movement. She proposed three nodes to address the gap between anti-discrimination laws—Gender, Race, and Disability—and explained why class was not one of them. She said that from a legal perspective, intersectionality and class are mutually exclusive. Issues of class are addressed in other areas of the law.

The Construction of Vulnerability: Disabled Women and Predatory Abuse
By Debbie Hagar (Auckland University)

Hagar interviewed dozens of people related to the title issue and found that people said that they were not vulnerable, rather the system makes situations where they are made to feel vulnerable. There was a sense of inevitability, an expectation that vulnerable people will be harmed, and this seeps into the thinking around the issue. In New Zealand, the law allows for women with intellectual disabilities to be sterilized if they are at risk of sexual abuse, thus ignoring the perpetrators. She emphasized that we are all able to be harmed because we are embodied, regardless of disability. Vulnerability is a construction, a label we put on people. She said that we need to reframe the paradigm so we are not continually labelled as vulnerable. Recent example was given of yet another group of boys not being convicted of rape because it is seen as harming their future life endeavors).

The Impact of Gender Neutrality on Gender Equality: How Should New Zealand Law Define Rape?
By Elisabeth McDonald (Victoria University)

McDonald looked at the May 2005 Select Committee in New Zealand which decided to keep rape as a gender specific offense in Section 128. Whereas other parts of the law are becoming gender-neutral, in this case it was specifically decided to keep the definition of rape. There are consequences for those who do not fit the gender binary then, including for trans women and men. Other actions can fall under the ‘unlawful sexual connection’ clauses, but not the rape one. It raises issues regarding the power of language and words and how they impact on sentencing.

Showing Judges How to Walk the Walk: The Feminist Judgments Project Aotearoa
By Rhonda Powell (University of Canterbury)

In 2008, R. Hunter asked “Can Feminist Judges Make a Difference” in the International Journal of the Legal Profession, looking at whether adding feminism rather than adding women would make a difference in law. Powell discussed bringing this project, which has been implemented elsewhere in the world, to New Zealand, where 29.9% of New Zealand judges are women. She and others are asking what would a feminist judge do in certain historical cases which seem to have had no consideration of women’s perspectives or interests. So what would we expect a feminist judge to do? Ask the ‘woman question’, take into account women’s interest, listen to women’s perspectives, tell women’s stories, challenge gender bias, contextualize legal decision, and address injustice and inequality. One can see feminist judging as a refusal to accept the concept of legal/law neutrality. They hope to have a publication out within the next year – looks to be a very interesting project (and makes me want to read about the other ones in the world!).

Victims of Sexual Exploitation by Peacekeepers: The Question of Agency in the UN’s Zero-Tolerance Policy
By Cassandra Mudgway

In looking at how the UN deals with sexual exploitation by its peacekeepers, arguably it is treating sex as the problem, rather than the context. It removes agency for women to not look at the context. A big issue is that the UN doesn’t have the capacity to criminally prosecute – it must rely on the nations to carry out that task, which doesn’t necessarily happen. Victims are literally last on the list for assistance, so even if the perpetrator is removed, the victims are often not given care or support. High-level discussions at the UN do not include sex work or sex-for-food issues, which need to be addressed. Mudgway discussed the need for victim-centered policies.

Beholden: (To Olympia): An Artists’s Response to Unveiling, Agency and the Pornographic Gaze
By Sorcia Forgan

Forgan opened with a discussion of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (~1463) as being a shift in the depiction of the female nude, breaking away from the Church. She detailed her performance piece wherein people are confronted with the gaze and literally write in pen on the performer, which prompts reflection. She assembled a small-scale viewing room next to the main room for symposium participants to look at and watch a recording of the performance.

Gender Equality and a Policy Challenge in the Public and Private Spheres (Paid Parental Leave)
By Suzy Morrissey (Victoria University)

Morrissey’s research question is what is the process of ‘problematization’ that led to the Paid Parental Leave (PPL) policies of New Zealand and Norway? She compared the policy discourse in both countries and found them to be quite different. In general, there are dynamic changes depending on which area of policy something is in. For example, there is usually no problem with employer-paid annual leave or sick leave, as that is now taken for granted in many countries. However, welfare is in a different sphere and is used with the language of dependency, cost, and being a burden on society. The difference in the discourse around PPL in the two countries was that in New Zealand, it was argued that women needed a paid break because it was assumed that they would be the primary carer, while in Norway, they intentionally wanted to move away from the old model to a new dual-carer model. Morrissey discussed the What’s the Problem Represented to Be (WPR) framework as offering a new way of looking at issues like this.

European Union Gender Action Plan 2016-2020: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Relations
By Ana Gilling (Victoria University)

Gilling discussed the refugee/immigration crisis in Europe as overwhelming, with lots of disturbing images online to be encountered by those doing research, especially into the gender aspect, which is what she was doing. She said that organizations are now saying that trafficking and refugee problems can no longer be separated due to enormity of the problems. There were no women at the table at the Syrian peace talks (which is disturbing), and that the issue of gender is being sidelined because of the crisis (now used as an excuse). Funding is more likely to go toward dealing with this issue than specific gender ones.

Equality and Opportunity: Educational Reform and Its Workplace Legacies
By Sarah Christie (Otago University)

Christie gave a historical overview of education in relation to women in New Zealand. Women’s work was still seen as temporary in spite of women being afforded more educational opportunities. Essentially there were three streams: academic, commercial, and homecraft. One of the interesting facts she related was that until 1942, girls were required to take Home Science courses and these took the place of other Science courses (except for Botany).

Identity Politics, Bourgeois Feminism, and Postmodernism
By Sionainn Byrnes

Byrnes opened with two clips, one of a New Zealand morning talk-show interview with a female University of Canterbury Entrepreneurship student, and the other of Madeleine Albright endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. She used these to frame her discussion of identity politics (women, gays, Latinos, etc.) seeming to now force people to support others ‘like them’ based on their identity, even if they don’t necessarily agree (she gave the example of New Zealand politician Paula Bennett). Both clips had made reference to the need to support other women so as not to be petty and jealous or betray the cause. She proposed using postmodern theory as a more productive way of finding support for progress by avoiding some of the issues with identity politics.

Changing Features of ‘Ethnic’ Migration, Gender and Multi-layered Belonging in Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany
By Ulrike M. Vieten

Vieten looked at what she called the ‘New Europeans’, those with post-cosmopolitan and trans-national local identities. She interviewed a variety of people from different backgrounds in Europe and found that they had different and difficult outlooks on Europe. One example was interviewing a person of Turkish descent in Germany and asking how they classify themselves (like do they identify as a German or not). This tied in with the earlier discussions of the refugee crisis and how this and following generations will integrate or not integrate in European societies.

Q&A Session
It came up that the discourse here in New Zealand is not on fire or on the same level like it is in Europe and elsewhere (“when you look at what passes for media…”). It is also interesting that the arguments against making the EU any larger use gender for political ends but only when it suits them (as in, Turkey doesn’t treat women as well as we do in Europe or the UK, so it shouldn’t be let into the EU).

Added to the Agenda: How Intersectional Groups Can Gain Policy Makers’ Attention
By Louise K. Davidson-Schmich (University of Miami)

The question Davidson-Schmich asked was how can citizens belonging to two or more marginalized groups capture policy makers’ attention? Germany was used as a crucial case as it was one that she and her co-authors were familiar with. They used process tracing to determine who speaks for the group, and documented silence: who doesn’t speak? what is not said? She said that they found that intersectional groups need allies, and there are three ways of doing this: top down (using existing policies like those of the EU or UN), convergence with policy maker interests (when politicians appropriate concerns for their own needs – like being concerned with immigrant women when they’re really against immigration), and bottom up (unions getting on board with minimum wage when it looks to benefit them).

Whose Stories Get Told? Feminist Adventures in Feature Film Development
By Marian Evans

Evans used her time to present and then engage the audience in reflecting on the films they consume. She said that only 14.5% of the New Zealand taxpayer-funded films since 2003 have been directed by women. And there was no work written and directed by a Maori woman. There are best practice models available now in Norway, Iceland, and elsewhere. The last Women’s Film Festival was in 2003 and it seems like there is still no demand for another one. One prohibiting factor in women in film development is that it takes 7-13 years, so it is a lot of time and effort to do so. She asked the audience for suggestions on how to increase women’s participation, as it seemed like progress has stalled. Several in the audience admitted that they don’t consider the gender of directors or other roles involved with films – one noted that they are conscious of that when it comes to their books but not movies.

Leading by Feminist Example? The EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
By Serena Kelly (University of Canterbury)

Kelly looked at images of powerful women, specifically Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini, two female HRVPs of the EU, in the New Zealand media. It was interesting that no specific mention was made in the New Zealand media about women’s rights. Kelly noted that although there is the power of hostile images, positive images must also be cultivated.

The Problem of Articulating ‘Unfreedom’ as a Global Feminist Discourse
By Cindy Zeiher (University of Canterbury)

Zeiher discussed the concept of unfreedom and how choice feminism relies on it to maintain itself; choice feminism is motivated by a fear of politics and does not seek to change the status quo. She acknowledged that it is difficult and demanding to be a politically engaged feminist, but that we should take pleasure in listening to our critics and using what they say to think critically about feminism (and try to encourage them to get engaged in it because they see us taking pleasure in it).

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