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Category: Feminism

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).

Trans/forming Feminisms: Media, Technology, Identity Conference notes

The Trans/forming Feminisms: Media, Technology, Identity Conference was held at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, on November 23-25, 2015. Twitter IDs were @transfem15 and #tf15. There was a large variety of papers, and while I didn’t agree with every viewpoint presented, I found every session that I attended interesting and added considerably to my knowledge about current trends in feminism in general and in this part of the world. The following are some notes from the conference.

The conference organizer, Rosemary Overell, opened by saying that we should be generous to our own challenges and boundaries while we were there and that capitalism wants us to feel disempowered, like we’re at the end of things.

Transgress, Translate, Transcend, Transform? Criminalized Women and Creative Writing – Keynote by Associate Professor Tracey McIntosh, University of Auckland

 McIntosh began by asking, How does prison work as an ideology? It relieves us from having to think about issues of racism, sexism, etc. (from Angela Davis). It’s a naturalized part of our social landscape but remains invisible. 51% of all prisoners in New Zealand are Maori. This is the most well-known social statistic in New Zealand (after sheep). 65% of all women in prison are Maori.

She goes into prisons and prisoners give her approval to share their stories and tell everyone what they’re going through and have gone through, but she wonders if they know who she is telling (i.e., the room full of us at the conference), that people will be analyzing it and seeing them as victims. As people who live under constant scrutiny and surveillance know, to be fully known is to be fully vulnerable. They want to know, Does mainstream society have to give up the sex, drugs, and money? Why do they tell us that we have to give it up?

McIntosh discussed the transformative power of the creative writing that they do and show her, often in the form of poetry. The power of memory through the power of narrative offers alternative ways of reviewing events. [I noticed that the power of the poems she was reading that were written by these women evoked more emotion and carried greater weight than the statistics she was also reading could.]

She told us how women know how to navigate the prison environment, but the outside world is very different. A girl might go in at 13 and come out at 21, too young to qualify for the self-care housing, and having no experience using an ATM or doing grocery shopping. She has no connections, and housing is a major issue for those trying to get out on parole. Also, everyone expects her to be the same as she was when she went in, although she has changed.

Female Dominated Narratives, Online Fan Culture, and the Gravitation Towards Jupiter Ascending – by Täg Hooper

Hooper discussed how the film Jupiter Ascending received bad buzz and was considered a flop, even though it did break even. It was criticized for using the trope of the Chosen One, even though many other films for men have it (Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc.). There is a 37 to 2 male-female film reviewer ration in the New York Times according to Meryl Streeps’ 2015 study. Rotten Tomatoes also skews toward male reviewers and its reviews are even featured on illegal torrent sites. Jupiter Ascending’s review percentages on Rotten Tomatoes are 22% critics vs. 51% fans, a larger disparity than is usual for the site [looks like this might have changed in the meantime. The studios are reluctant to put money toward female fantasy in science fiction, so it does matter that the androcentric reviews turn off filmmakers to take a ‘risk.’

‘I Will Go Down with This Ship’: Gay Slashfiction as a Manifestation of Women’s Eroticism – by Jean Sargent-Shadbolt

Sargent-Shadbolt is researching fandom communities dominated by women. She gave an overview of slashfiction as a genre of fan fiction that specifically includes sexual or romantic relationships (the first example being Kirk and Spock from Star Trek). Fan fiction is a grassroots, DIY medium (zines, comic conventions, the internet). It raises issues of who gets to decide what are the right kind of stories. Traditionally, it has not been women, people of color, the LGBT community, and other marginalized groups. Reboot, retelling, and homage stories are okay in the mainstream, but fan fiction is delegitimized. She is using analytics to determine the most read and popular fan fiction.

Tensions/Triggers: Trigger Warnings Panel Discussion with Rebecca Stringer and Catherine Dale

Stringer said that the panel was inspired by the increasing number of articles on trigger warnings, which can be written or verbal descriptions of content designed to alert people of the potential for retraumatization for those who have PTSD or prior trauma that might come up. Students use them for mental preparation, not blocking. Stringer said that her students want topics on the lecture syllabus to be aired, and that there is a difference between being triggered and feeling sad or upset. Some academics have resisted because they feel constrained, their authority challenged, or their spontaneity hampered. She has taken to calling it “content forecasting”. The critics of political correctness in the 90s are the same ones or sound like the current critics of trigger warnings. It plays into the neoliberal sense of personal responsibility to see students as emotionally dull. PTSD has historically been a contentious diagnosis, especially for the U.S. military with regards to Vietnam veterans. Students are used to warnings online and then wonder where they are in the classroom. The internet has set their expectation for them. She challenged us not to respond with the same brutal reluctance as the U.S. military.

Dale spoke of a generational divide in an article in The Atlantic saying that U.S. students are too coddled, that they’re there to be educated and can check out books beforehand [think this is the article]. Anything could potentially be associated with trauma for someone, so all we can do is flag the most egregious, like sexual assault. Overell added that showing care is feminized in otherwise masculine, rational discourse in the university, and how dare marginalized people push back against this. Stringer told how in one class she had students get together at the beginning to create Class Norms, a collective agreement, which she wrote up and got feedback on to make sure everyone was on board with it. One example was that the class agreed it was okay to leave during a movie if a student were upset. 98% expressed positive viewpoint on the safe space concept after the class finished. Two students felt too safe and coddled.

The discussion opened up to the crowd, and various topics included:

  • There is a danger in allowing people to leave, because the most likely to leave university are certain groups, and the university could become a boundary that they don’t want to cross back into.
  • An accountable space is a better term than safe space, because there is no safe space.
  • One student wanted a warning for yet another theory text that didn’t have any people of color.
  • The phrase “overrepresentation of Maori” can do violence every time it’s said, as it reinforces the grim statistics of Maori in prisons.
  • Using warnings can lead to exceptionalizing certain content or invoking the power of suggestion to show that something is special when an instructor doesn’t want it to be.
  • Some of the resistance by California universities is to the neoliberal push of the consumer-student viewpoint (ex: have to protect students because they’re consumers). It has been top-down, not coming from students, with the potential for lawsuits.
  • Why now? Possibly because of the siege mentality for kids who were 4 years old on 9/11, or the immediacy of images with the internet.
  • Media studies has been doing content warnings for a long time.
  • Maybe it’s part of the affective turn in the Humanities, where there is an acknowledgement that it is more than a cognitive response (trauma).

The Novelty Factor: Finding Your Voice as a Woman in Comedy – by Rosie Howells

Howells didn’t consider herself a woman comedian at first. But she soon discovered that most comedy archetypes were created by men for men. It can feel stale and strange for a woman to play, even though she can (ex. party animal). She likes just writing humans and not assigning a gender, but it doesn’t work for every story. She has been criticized for writing too many women, but also men. She feels a responsibility to write more funny roles for women because men historically haven’t, and there is a drought in opportunities.

Discharge is an all-female troupe now in Wellington. It has been called sexist for being all-female, even though all-male groups like Monty Python aren’t. The group allows her to play a bully and explore issues of gender with other women. Women often have to write their own parts. For example: in male comedies like The Hangover, men are shown as complex with multiple roles (cool one, funny one, geeky one) but the woman is a token and only represents her gender. Bridesmaids is one of few counterexamples. One of their shows is 28 Days which is a take on The Crucible and menstruation. They try to look at a joke from all sides and know that if it offends one of the group, it is likely to offend 20 in an audience. Critics look for meaning more closely with an all-female troupe. Howells’ version of activism is showing that women can be funny.

During the Q&A, people asked if gender-blind writing were actually possible. Howells discussed how stand-up comedy is a really harsh environment with a lot of fragile masculinity at play. Someone asked if comedy needs trigger warnings so audience can choose more carefully or avoid shows – rape culture and rape jokes are apparently common in New Zealand comedy.

Ladies, a table? Or Do I go Hungry? – by Catherine Dale

Dale discussed the term ‘lady’ and whether or not it will continue to be used as a term between girl and woman. The theory from Althusser is around hailing in the street: when someone is hailing and you turn around to respond, you are recognizing that it is you being hailed (theory of interpellation and 9/10 times the right person will turn around). There is no blank slate before you choose lady or woman, but you can have resistance to your subjection. Bathrooms doors are even inconsistent in how they describe themselves. The more demeaning the job, the more likely it is to use the term lady to raise workers up a status (ex. cleaning lady); there is no garbage gentleman [except in an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!]. Margaret Thatcher was known as the Iron Lady, but the protesting miners were not called ladies because ladies don’t protest or cause a fuss.

She showed the lyrics of Tom Jones’ “She’s A Lady” and a clip from the show Girls where three young women try to figure out who the ladies are that a text is talking about. One believes they are all ladies, while another disputes being called by that term. There is a Fill in the Blanks quiz online by Debbie Cameron where you have to choose woman or lady, and it is fairly easy to tell which one sounds right. For actions done to bodies, the word is usually woman. People now say they’re using the term ironically, for friends who aren’t polite or nice, but are they actually being subversive? It depends on who is using the term.

Artistic and Nonviolent Resistance in Micronesia: Maga’håga (female leaders) versus the United States Military in the Mariåna Archipelago; or, #OurIslandsAreSacred: Indigenous Resistance and Digital Activism in the Mariåna Archipelago – by Sylvia Frain

She explained that her title changed post-fieldwork and that her work there was the first time a researcher went to participate with them rather just study them. The Archipelago is a key area for TPP compliance for the U.S. and Department of Defense. The complex language used in military documents (like euphemisms for bombs) is difficult to go through, and the public is only given three minutes for comments during session hearings. Looking at a U.S. military map, one can see that they carve up the world into zones of responsibility. A girls’ Catholic high school made a video about protecting the island, and the issue has also made it into the John Oliver show.

Rethinking Feminism in the Face of Intersectionality – by Nikki Aaron

Aaron has done research in India on the devadasis, part of the untouchable class/caste. They dedicate young girls to the goddess Yellamma/Renuka. Sex work is better income than manual labor. Oral histories have been lost, so we don’t really know their past as possible courtesans in previous times. They are reduced to using the language of NGOs regarding morality and told to marry. Are they empowered or exploited? Feminists try to show them as having agency as single women, whereas a couple documentaries like Sex, Death & the Gods and Prostitutes of God show them in need of a white savior. It is problematic to see women as a group with one need when different women may see it as their own best interest to refuse some forms of agency.

Resisting Methods: Doing Research With, For, and On Social Movements – by Massimiliana Urbano

Urbano conducted six months of fieldwork across Italy and critiqued the consent form process as protecting institutions from liability though it is supposed to protect the participant. It reveals the power imbalance between researcher and participants and prevents intimacy; it also reflects the institutionalization of research. There is no follow-up with consent forms.

“Of all the Continents in the World, Asia is the Gayest!” Some Notes on Queer Asia as Method – Keynote by Audrey Yue, University of Melbourne

Yue spoke of the transnational turn in sexuality studies. It sees a need to examine intersections across nation-states rather than within. It doesn’t privilege psychoanalysis. It questions the institutionalization and internationalization of area studies (Asia Studies, New Zealand studies, etc.). And it must consider cultural difference as well as sexual. Yue referenced a lot of books and the case study of Trans-Singapore. Apparently Singapore subsidizes gender reassignment surgery (although it criminalizes homosexuality) because it prefers normative gender to in-between.

Slutwalk Melbourne: Negotiating Feminisms, Organizing Feminists – by Jessamy Gleeson

In covering Slutwalk Melbourne, the mainstream media happily use the term slut but emptied the march of its political content and instead said it was buying into the patriarchy. One quote was that a half naked woman as a form of protest is different from a half naked woman pandering to the male gaze. It is frustrating when academics research SlutWalk without giving activists an active voice and then calling it a “postfeminist masquerade.” A 2014 article only looked a publicly available social media and included trolls who were called collaborators and examined the number of hits even though some posts are deleted. Gleeson said that there were other legitimate critiques of Slutwalk that she would rather spend time on, as opposed to dealing with questions about whether or not they are feminist. The problem is that other academics will build on this article and reinforce the bad data. In Slutwalk, some claim the word slut while others don’t. The term is loaded, especially for women of color. It does respond to local incidents, like the murder of a girl in Melbourne and police officer’s comments that women shouldn’t walk alone in the park during the day. The independent media is much better at coverage.

Beyond Violence, Victimization and the Penal State: Empowerment Pathways for Female Incarcerated Students – by Jenny Ostini

Ostini said that the female incarceration rate has doubled in Australia recently. Their focus is on transformative education because there is a link between domestic violence, incarceration, and educational disadvantage. The academy has rhetoric of community involvement and community justice, but it mostly comes down to citations and the h-index. Most prisoners haven’t completed Year 12 secondary schooling. They are pushing digital literacy in prisons by loading ereaders with not just textbooks but novels. They work on academic preparedness and career aspirations (why would someone be interested in knowing math if they’re going to be a truck driver). Teachers have to be reaccredited every six months to be able to teach in prisons; there is a continually shifting political landscape when government changes. She noted that education can be dangerous for some women so there are issues around this.

Reconsidering Utopia: The Dialectic of Sex and Contemporary Feminist Activism – by Stevie Jepson

Jepson discussed Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012) who was critiqued for biological essentialism and offered a science fiction vision of society (test tube babies) in the women’s rights movement in the U.S. Her book makes strong feminist demands in the last chapter and contains an interesting chart of sex, class, and culture. Firestone believed that revolution must be flexible and open. One example was the Pill which combined activism and science/technology. The ultimate goal was androgyny. Instead of thinking that utopia is fruitless, feminists should see utopia as a way to think about feminism. Jepson mentioned David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope and a new collection on Firestone: Further Adventures of The Dialectic of Sex.

Living the Experience in the Public Domain: New Media and Public Perception of Women in Malaysia – by Rohana Arrifin

Arrifin discussed the changing nature of images of women in politics in Malaysia. Now they always have headscarves. This is known as the Arabization of women’s image (headscarves, long robes, etc.). The Obedient Wives Club has 600-700 members and believes that if they learn first-class prostitute skills, their husbands won’t stray. It is a big joke that the prime minister is controlled by his wife who is seen as more domineering and does not conform to all of the conservative trends. Conformity, conservatism, and patriarchy are the order of the day now.

Women as Men and Men Made by Women: Transgressive and Transforming Images of Beauty of 19th Century Qajar Women in Iran – by James P. Mirrione

Mirrione looked at 19th Century Persian dynastic history and the changes that have occurred in what is acceptable. It used to be acceptable for men to have young boy lovers in addition to wives; colonial influence changed that. The moustache on women was an image of beauty. Once photography came, control over dress and women tightened. In pre-1979 revolution Iran, the flag was a male lion with a female sun behind it; women were supposed to be pure for the nation. Today, the scarf is not a cultural symbol but a means of control. While young women may not understand the orthodoxy, they have to cover up regardless. Even a picture of Adam and Eve in literature anthologies is considered scandalous. Mirrione is interested in how women perform in the paintings, photographs, etc. because everything is ultimately a performance.

Patriarchy, Women, and Islam: Narrative Framing of Sisters in Islam – by Tha Era Yousef

Yousef discussed the dual court system of Sharia and civil courts. If you are born in Malaysia, you are Muslim and not allowed to convert. There was a fatwa (religious ruling) issued against Sisters in Islam NGO on July 31, 2014, and the coverage in the media is biased based on each outlet’s readership. In Malaysia, the Hindu and Buddhist past is not acknowledged and Hindu sites have been destroyed. 60 percent of the population is Malay, which means one must be Muslim, speak the language, and practice the culture, and the Malay race is institutionalized in the constitution, even though the constitution does have religious freedom.

Sex Work in Industry and Academe: Feminist Porn – keynote by Constance Penley

The Feminist Porn Book (2013) was the first to bring together feminist porn producers and scholars. The porn/sex wars began in the 1980s. Feminism being channeled into the attacks on pornography was one of the worst things to happen to feminism and a big setback that absolutely divided women. Penley has been teaching a class on pornography since 1993 and is working on a book on how to teach it. She said religious organizations can no longer rely on moral attacks on pornography so are relying on university studies and research to make their case, so they don’t like books like hers that don’t help their cause. The Citizens United Against Pornography in Santa Barbara had as its only credentials that they had never watched an R-rated film. Teaching pornography is a good exercise in academic freedom. There is an epistemological shock at discovering that porn isn’t what people think it is (ex. she introduces Deep Throat on the first day of class). Once you’re in the realm of popular culture, everything is impure anyway. It’s the class that keeps on teaching because students go on discussing after class. Porn parodies have been criticizing Hollywood since 1923’s Casting Couch, and are not getting more violent, unlike Hollywood films. Her students are some of the few people on the planet who have historical and theoretical basis to be able to discuss and critique pornography.

Women’s Studies: Here to Stay – by Hilary Lapsley

The Women’s Studies Association Aotearoa New Zealand has accusations of essentialism thrown around a lot at it. But it has played a key role in the development of feminism in New Zealand, and its contributions have yet to be researched. There is a lot of opposition from young women to women-only spaces at conferences (women fought hard for that right). When issues of intersectionality get raised, she notes that women were trying to deal with issues for Maori and women of color, but capitalism ended up coopting many middle-class white women. They do now have a Maori name: Pae Akoranga Wahine. Lapsley has misgivings about how good digital is compared to real-life interactions and community. During the Q&A, the question was asked: does Gender Studies water down political potential for women? There doesn’t seem to be opposition to the term feminism in the same way as women’s studies. Postmodern theorizing is not very accessible to a lot of women. The question for the future is how can Women’s Studies stay vibrant?

Walking the Knife’s Edge: Self-defense, Victim Blame, and Empowerment in Neoliberal Times – by Bell Murphy

Murphy discussed the Women’s Self Defence Network, Wahine Toa. Sexual violence is bad in New Zealand: 1 in 3 women report unwanted, distressing sexual contact (vs. 1 in 10 men). Of 10% reported, only 13% of those result in conviction. Rebecca Stringer’s book Knowing Victims (2014) talks about how now it seems victimization doesn’t so much happen ‘to’ someone as arise from the self through personal responsibility. Ex. SafetyChick.com. There is a slippery slope between safety tips and victim blaming which has long been known by feminists. Offering self defense classes is controversial in this climate. However, structural solutions take a long time, whereas feminist classes boost people in a matter of hours. Study showed 50% reduction in campus rapes. Murphy referenced Jocelyn Hollander (2009) in that agency does not equal responsibility.

Dispatching Patriarchy one tweet, blog, and Facebook entry at a time? – Keynote by Sandra Grey, President of Tertiary Education Union

Grey said she would be using social movement theory and its intersection with ICT (Information and Communications Technology) for her talk. Her world has become dominated by her cell phone, but she doesn’t use PowerPoint because she doesn’t want technology driving teaching. There is less and less space in the room with people and more online (some Vice Chancellors are also pushing this). She referenced Celeste Liddle’s writing on 22-year-old Ms. Dhu’s death. Grey writes on the New Zealand women’s movement and comes under fire for saying that from 1990-2010 there has been no broad-based women’s movement in New Zealand. Can ICT help create one perhaps?

Some ways the Web might help include allowing people to mill and form collective identities online. It enables people to make a personal appeal to invite their friends to join them in a cause. It can change public narratives. Information bubbles are problematic, so you have to find a way to shake people’s consciousness using targeted campaigns (like other groups use babies or whales instead of sharks to promote their cause). Kiwiblog by David Farrar l is the most read political blog in New Zealand. Clever ads (like the Equal Pay campaign) can be picked up by mainstream media and stick in people’s minds. Even in a union, equal pay is not at the top of the agenda. Around 30% of New Zealanders have university degrees. Grey reiterated that the Web isn’t as open and transformative as we think, since it is controlled by capitalism, so we have to go in with our eyes wide open.

During Q&A, it came up that strategic essentialism is sometimes the most efficient way to get things done. For example, at some point, women have to pick up one issue and support it. What is not helpful is the phenomenon of out-lefting the left, as in people condemning others for not being a good enough feminist, etc. Issues brought up by audience members included the activist work of the academy being outsourced to students who already have limited resources, the right coopting the language (reverse sexism, racism, etc.), and problems with using corporate tools like Facebook to organize. One alternative is Riseup.net.

Women in Politics session – Shirin Brown and Rohana Arrifin

In New Zealand, there is around 30-35% representation of women, but officers are still largely men. Australia is apparently now requiring people to take a local government class before standing. Brown suggested that being used to academia and its processes made her better positioned to deal with the bureaucracy in local government in Auckland. She saw standing for local council as helping her community. Arrifin noted that politics is power and can bring about changes. It was brought up that India requires 30% quota to be filled by women, but it ends up being wives and daughters of politicians rather than just anyone. The private sector still is vastly underrepresented by women (12% for New Zealand companies). Being a mother can have all kinds of benefits and skills in a job (motivated to get things done with less time, motivated for the sake of their children) and yet employers still discriminate. Brown said that because women already have the experience of being Othered, they may be better able to have empathy and listen to other viewpoints in government. They need to learn how to fundraise and campaign, and name recognition is important. Even if a woman is the “token woman”, she can use it as an opportunity to have a seat at the table and speak up. It was noted that the University of Melbourne is starting a program called Pathways to Politics.

Digitized Domestic Violence: Technology Violence is a Feminist Issue – by Jenny Ostini

There is a lot more violence than is captured by the term “domestic” violence, including cyberstalking, bank accounts hacked, social media harassment, etc. This exertion of control (violence) is increasingly taking place online. Ostini noted that abuse in cyberspace can be as damaging as in real life. One can be a Luddite, but they will be missing out on looking for jobs, banking, government claims that have gone online, etc. She is interested in plans to use big data to map where domestic violence is coming from to aid police. She emphasized that we should build a digital toolkit instead of just telling students ‘no’; all they hear is blah, blah, blah, no and do not get the information they need to be aware. She mentioned a Digital Champion program and working group on Respectful Relationships. We can help out by not criticizing or judging other women online and using the Golden Rule, as well as supporting people who get into trouble (we all make mistakes) and avoiding the pack mentality of the internet. We should talk about privacy settings and how students can change them. We should emphasize that sharing a password is not a token of love. Also, if you are being harassed, screenshots are evidence that can be taken to police.

Back to the Future: A Story of Women’s Rights in India Traced through Time and Cyber-space – by Gurleen Khandpur

Khandpur discussed the rape cases in India that have gone viral and compared them to what happened in previous cases. It took a lot less time for action to happen after the Delhi rape case because of social media as compared to the case from the 1970s. India has 75% rural population with not much access to the internet. Part of the huge response was because young educated Indians saw themselves in the victim. Meanwhile, in the recent Park Street rape case, Suzette Jordan, a single mother of two, did not receive the same response. Since she was out drinking, she was supposed to feel ashamed and people did not rally around her in the same way.

The conference concluded with a gathering of everyone in the main room where we had the chance to give feedback and discuss some of the ideas that came up over the past few days. I thought it was a good way of closing and giving people an opportunity to voice their thoughts about ways to improve in the future. Hopefully there are more feminist conferences during my time in New Zealand — the Women’s Studies Association is supposed to be having their conference next year I believe.

The Time Has Come

A year into my PhD studies near the bottom of the world, my mind feels full to the brim of information from conversations, conferences, news, research, travel, and more. It is now to the point that I feel compelled to join the academic blogging community and share my thoughts and processing of some of this information.

My hope is that at some point, I will be able to articulate the points of intersection between my main academic interests: science fiction literature, feminism and feminist theoretical approaches, and Digital Humanities (which I only recently discovered existed — I’m so glad to now be ‘in the know’).

The crown jewel of science fiction to me will always be Frank Herbert’s Dune.
To this I dedicate my academic toil.

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