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Dune Scholar

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Comparisons between Naomi Alderman’s The Power and the Dune Series

I’ve just finished Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power (2016) Naomi Alderman's The Power novelafter it was recommended by several colleagues. It was a quick-moving, enjoyable read, and potentially a good ‘gateway’ novel to science fiction/speculative fiction, especially for women who don’t see what the genre has to offer them. It felt like an update on the 1970s feminist science fiction stories that turned around sexist norms and gender roles in order to enable the reader to examine them in a new light. It can be considered science fiction rather than fantasy due to the brief explanation of origins of the electro-power that women gain access to – that during WWII a certain chemical was put into the water supply and caused this extra part to grow in their necks. I also noticed several parallels with the characters in the later Dune series books that feature the Honored Matres, and I offer some brief comparisons below.

Power as a Corrupting Force

Heretics of Dune book coverThe Dune series is certainly concerned with power, but in the last two books the series takes an interesting turn to explore how a lust for power might corrupt women. Many readers never get to these last two books of the six-book saga, and they have hardly been touched by academic critics. But they offer a group of women characters that is a clear foil to the Bene Gesserit and worthy of more study. Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune introduce the characters known as the Honored Matres, some kind of amalgamation-gone-wrong of the Fish Speakers from God Emperor Leto II’s all-female army in God Emperor of Dune and the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood. Unlike the Bene Gesserit – who are powerful yet prefer to work behind the scenes and are not shown killing and torturing others – the Honored Matres are characterized as sadistic and evil, potentially even more so than the Bene Tleilaxu, who up until that point usually occupy that slot. They have perfected a way of turning men into their slaves, ‘bonding’ them so they obey the Honored Matres in everything.

The Honored Matres share similar attributes with the Harkonnens, the villains of the first novel who delight in enslaving, torturing, and killing others. One of the functions of the Honored Matres seems to be showing the reader that it is not one’s gender that makes one more or less violent; that anyone can become corrupt if they give in to a lust for acquiring and maintaining power at any cost.

In The Power, power becomes a corrupting force as women discover how much control they can gain over others by exercising their new-found electric shock abilities. We see women doing a range of behaviors, from merely zapping others all the way to torturing and raping them. Like the Honored Matres, they appear to primarily use their abilities on men, but in a world that resembles Earth, they justify this by remembering how long men have been violent and aggressive toward women. Some of the first women to rise up are those who had been trafficked and had virtually no agency in their own lives. But although some might be after equality, others are after revenge and domination. This raises one of the key questions in feminist thought and in criticism of the feminist movement – are women trying to attain equality, however that’s defined, or do they really want to be elevated over men?

“He will not stop screaming. Two of the women take him by the throat and send a paralysis into his spine. One squats on top of him. She pulls off his trousers. He is not unconscious.” (The Power, pg 280)

We know this scene, but almost always it is the reverse. For those who wonder if a world ruled by women would be different, as long as their socialization remained the same, this book seems to say, there would still be violence and assault and torture.

Acquiring Power

Chapterhouse Dune book coverHow the women in The Power acquire their power is explained as the result of some chemical dumped in the water supply during World War II that caused an extra part to grow on their necks. We first see young girls being able to electrocute others with their hands, twisting something inside them to make their ‘skein’ work. As they learn how to control it, and show other women how to access their power, they are better able to use it as a weapon.

In a similar way, the Honored Matres acquire their power through mainly organic means. This is one of the features of the Dune series that makes it different from other science fiction, which often features a need for external technology to bolster humankind’s abilities. Being some kind of offshoot of the Bene Gesserit, the Honored Matres have similar skills in hand-to-hand combat, notably a deadly lightning-fast kick, and abilities with vocal control over others. They also have knowledge of poisons, although they appear to lack the Bene Gesserit’s ability to neutralize them. The Honored Matres do rely on some external tech — we see them employing the torture device of the T-Probe to try to extract information out of the Bene Gesserit’s military commander, Miles Teg.

The end result for women in all of these novels is that knowing they have this power and can use it whenever they want affords them the security to be able to go where they want and do what they want. In The Power, it is men who end up having a curfew and having to be careful of themselves around women, because they are now the ones who lack power. This reversal of the usual scenario for women—who are told to not go out alone or late at night, or to be careful what they wear—enables the novel to highlight the reality of women’s real everyday lives. What might the world be like, it asks us to consider, if the situation were reversed?

Gender Essentialism

Another feature the Dune series and The Power share is the gender essentialism, that is, the idea that the powerful abilities are linked to women in some way. The Dune series never explicitly states this, and we see a few select men in earlier novels gaining Bene Gesserit abilities as taught to them by their mothers. However, because it does not show any male Honored Matres, we associate their abilities and their corrupted use of them with women. In The Power, there is a more explicit link to genetics, with only a handful of individuals (implied to be intersex) who are men having the extra feature in their neck. They are treated as anomalies. Such gender essentialism appears to be necessary for the novels to achieve the aim of highlighting the effects of power – we may be so used to seeing powerful men exerting their will on others that it takes the reversal of having powerful women doing so to make us think about why this is and what might be done to change the situation.

A Tsunami Change

“In Delhi, he follows behind a pack of women rampaging through Janpath market. There was a time that a woman could not walk alone here, not if she were under seventy, and not with certainty even then. There had been protests for many years, and placards, and shouted slogans. These things rise up and afterwards it is as if it had never been. Now the women are making what they call ‘a show of force’ with those who were killed under the bridge and starved of water.

Tunde interviews a woman in the crowd. She had been here for the protests three years earlier; es, she had held up her banner and shouted and signed her petitions. ‘It was like being part of a wave of water,’ she says. ‘A wave of spray from the ocean feels powerful, but it is only there for a moment, the sun dries the puddles and the water is gone. Then you feel maybe it never happened. That is how it was with us. The only wave that changes anything is a tsunami. You have to tear down the houses and destroy the land if you want to be sure no one will forget you.’” (The Power, pg 133)

This quote alludes to the wave analogy for the feminist movement and implies that a more powerful force is needed than protests and the like to create lasting change. In the Dune series, this is also true in a way, since the planet-destroying, male-enslaving force of the Honored Matres is what changes the dynamics of the universe and forces everyone else to take a new path.

I think The Power would make for an accessible and thought-provoking text in the classroom. Several of its viewpoint characters are relatable young women, and it could offer a new way into the introduction of certain feminist topics.

Notes from Gender and Education Association Conference 2018

Gender and Education Association Conference 2018
University of Newcastle (Newcastle, Australia)
December 9-12, 2018

The Gender and Education Association (GEA)’s 2018 conference was held in Australia this time around, which made it more accessible for those in Australasia, although many people still attended from the UK. The first day consisted of a Feminist Teacher Symposium and was held on a Sunday so that teachers outside of the tertiary sector would be able to attend. The conference officially opened that evening, and then it was three more days packed with presentations on topics relating to gender, education, and feminism. The conference theme was “Gender, Post-truth Populism and Pedagogies: Challenges and Strategies in a Shifting Political Landscape”, and most presenters were able to address it without it seeming overly forced. There were plenty of new ideas, lots of resources to check out, and new friendships with people from all over the globe packed into this week. The conference hashtag was #GEAconf2018.

Day 1 – December 9, 2018
Day 2 – December 10, 2018
Day 3 – December 11, 2018
Day 4 – December 12, 2018

Day 1 – December 9

Ileana Jiménez – #StayWoke: Global Feminist Teachers and Pedagogies

Jiménez began by introducing herself as a Latina teacher from Puerto Rico who teaches English at a New York high school and founded Feminist Teacher in 2009. She envisions her work as a long-range form of justice and emancipation and liberation not just for our students but ourselves as well. She explained how her work partly started because regular teacher conferences and spaces weren’t doing the (feminist) work or allowing it. Remember this is labor; it’s taxing on us; don’t work alone. She finds herself having to be a sex educator, psychologist, etc. for her students when others in those roles aren’t doing enough. An Advanced Placement English teacher taught her James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and she found herself relating to him being bullied. She wondered, why haven’t I read a book that reflects me back to me?! He’s an Irish boy in late 19th century Ireland. She realized that her students may only see themselves reflected in the lunch lady later that day.

Part of the challenge of being overtly feminist is being asked ‘why are you bringing your feminist agenda?’ or ‘why are you on your feminist soapbox?’ She has taught a feminism and activism class for ten years, but she says feminist pedagogy is not about one course but what we do every day. One question to ask is why aren’t white boys showing up in the feminist class, when boys of color are taking it. She explained how white girls will initially think only about reproductive rights and come to realize there are many other issues than that one. On day one, she has them write down their ‘story’ about gender/identity/expression that they have received from family, school, etc. They soon realize that race and class are mixed up in it. She exposes them to bell hooks’ definition of feminism from 1984 and they are able to use it differently by the end of class than when they started; it’s not about equality but dismantling the system. According to Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life (2017) feminism is homework, an assignment, and housework is rebuilding the [master’s] house.

She said we need to be aware that our students are reading us as a text, too. Intersectionality is mad overused and has become a social media hashtag. This means that students may know of it but aren’t getting the genealogy of it in a meme. We’re leaving our students illiterate if we don’t teach them the history in our classroom. (See Kimberle Crenshaw’s TEDTalk). This is why she teaches about oppression not just rights. She had a great phrase about how our students are malnourished – they need these feminist vitamins! (as in the women of color writers who have gone before). women of color feminismsIntersectionality had been part of the genealogy before Crenshaw coined the term; for example, the Combahee River Collective (Black feminists) were tired of being left out of the civil rights movement’s analysis. She passed out handouts of their manifesto and asked us how students might respond to it today. Various people said students might be bored, wouldn’t understand it, or wouldn’t know why it was important. I said angry, which has been a topic in the media recently. She then discussed how it might seem like she and her students are all at the seminar table in a sense, but they’re not at the same table, as in not all of her students comes from privileged backgrounds.

Students have also heard of white feminism and don’t know the history of it. She had Gloria Steinem come to her class in 2016, and that was interestingly a year that no boys signed up for her class even though there was so much interesting going on with gender in the media and politics. It’s heartening to remember that our students can do feminist work in whatever path they follow, but they need a framework to do so. For example, one of her students said she wanted to go on to study hospitality so she could own her own hotel and have fair labor practices. It was nice to hear that she has her students do blog posts rather than turn in papers because feminist discourse for them is online, so they should be a part of the conversation! She also talked about how some of her male students presented in front of the whole school about texts that circulate in lad culture that objectify women and analyzed that behavior. She recommended not keeping feminist pedagogy contained in the four walls of the classroom but letting it spill out, even if it sometimes means getting ‘in trouble’.

One of the questions was about her opinion on why white boys weren’t taking the feminist class. She replied that we literally socialize boys not to do the work of self-reflection that feminism demands. Boys who do take the class are surprise at the level of self-introspection. For example, the first day she asks them to do a lot of writing as they think about why they’re taking this class and what their definition of feminism is, etc.

Panel of Australian Feminist Teachers – chaired by Ileana Jiménez

Briony O’Keeffe – O’Keeffe teaches two feminist collective classes and noted that it was the first time many of the students had a space to talk about bad things that had happened to them. There is no syllabus, since she didn’t feel like it was her place to set an agenda. Instead, she lets the students direct what they want to know. Alice Elwell – Elwell said she is known as the feminist teacher; this is both good and bad. It means people who don’t know her come and show her memes and stuff because she is relatable, but it also means she gets screamed at and called nasty things at times. Why is the ‘left’ seen as dangerous, but conservatives aren’t and don’t have to explain their politics. Kira Jones – Jones said that students at her school made headlines for leaving school to go to a climate change conference. Baby boomers will wonder why students aren’t protesting like they did ‘back in the day’, yet then get mad when they do over an issue like climate change. She discussed some of the hard times she has faced in school and how she responded.

In the panel discussion, teachers discussed some of their content. Students get to engage with theorists Judith Butler, bell hooks, and Adrienne Rich. They get to rewrite fairy tales, even if this can lead to them unintentionally reinforcing stereotypes. As one teacher said, you have to give constructive feedback even when it’s difficult. The Great Gatsby and its stalker narrative are discussed and why we the readers often hate Daisy but not Tom. The Avengers is analyzed, as is the movie poster: why are women in the brokeback position twisting to show their breasts and butts in an unnatural way, and women and black men at the back so white men can be in the front. Students find this look at a favorite franchise challenging. Everything is political; it’s a luxury to think that something isn’t political, though students may complain at things being ‘made political’. The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas is about an African-American girl going to a rich white school. One of the projects of feminist teachers is to find ways to intervene, even though this can be getting ‘in trouble’ and us taking up more space than we are supposedly allowed to. There was some discussion of why we still use this term as adults – is it us reverting to our inner child? The Slap is a short film used to introduce gender and sexuality as a spectrum – for some students it was the first time they had seen a man being feminine but also heterosexual. There was a note that sometimes silence is good and indicative of people processing. One of the Q&A was where are the indigenous feminists (beyond Black feminists who are often used). The audience was referred to an Instagram account of @coffinbirth but panelists also acknowledged that this was an ongoing challenge that needed to be addressed. For example, students will be all shiny-eyed when analyzing Black Lives Matter, but then Australia and its media headlines are discussed and a wall goes up. One teacher uses memes and Instagram handles, which students love, and she has them select several and make connections to the texts in the course. Another question was whether there were any primary school resources that could help with these topics, and there is a respectful relationships Victoria curriculum that is available for primary schools too.

Nisha Thapliyal – Learning and Teaching Feminist Solidarity

Thapliyal mentioned Decolonizing Solidarity by Clare Land, and Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson. She said she grounds herself with reference to the Australian feminist movement and finds it comforting that we are not alone; history shows us that we are not the first to walk the path. She mentioned Stree Shakti Woman Power and Annie Zaidi’s Unbound: 2,000 years of Indian Women’s Writing (2015). There is a problem whenever the issue of ‘3rd World Women’ comes up and students who had previously done complex analyzes fall back into Othering and deficit discourse. She had a good statement about how policies, including progressive ones, are only as good as the culture that implements them, and that we know this as feminists. We need to break down the ‘fences of knowledge’ that the elite benefit from and perpetuate. She recommended Zygmunt Bauman’s Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts (2003) and Deconstructing Development Discourse: Buzzwords and Fuzzwords (2010). It includes a quote from Ines Smyth about how gender has been mainstreamed in international development but there is no mention of feminism’s work of the last two decades. Arundhati Roy said in 2004 there is no such thing as the voiceless, just those deliberately silenced or preferably unheard. Other writers and resources mentioned were: Nancy A. Naples’ Grassroots Warriors (1998), Women’s Activism and Globalization, Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s Feminism without Borders (2003), and June Jordan, an African-American writer who wrote an essay on domestics. The question of ‘helping’ is so loaded, with colonial overtones. The problem is the impulse to help is individualized, privatized, psychologized, and the structural problems of the 1% are not being addressed (with such things as voluntourism). Learning to read the world through other eyes bookThere is an open access online study program called Learning to Read the World through Other Eyes that is designed to address the underlying assumptions in global citizenship education.

Kathleen Butler, Vanita Sundaram, Emma Renold – Feminist Teacher Panel

Butler thinks about the turbulent space where fresh and salt water meet as an analogy for Indigenous and Western ways of knowledge. Still concerning in stories is that women feature as the reasons for conflict rather than as sovereign actors in their own right. She worries Indigenous Dreaming stories being put in the curriculum are reifying problems. Sundaram discussed how what gets treated as significant is skewed in society. For example, 5-10 stabbings would be taken more seriously compared to 5-10 reports of sexual harassment or assault. Renold mentioned LiveFearFree – This is me series campaign challenging gender stereotypes, the Good Practice Guide: A Whole Education Approach to Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse, and Sexual Violence in Wales, and Agenda: A Young People’s Guide to Making Positive Relationships Matter, which defines activists as “people who do and act and something they believe in that benefits the lives of others around them”. The Agenda is a different way in, different to risk-based approaches that are normally used in education. Renold said that feedback from young people is that they don’t want to be told what to do; they want links to ideas so they can make up their own mind about what to do. A lot of gender education is decontextualized, not place-based; never assume who is sitting in front of you

Conference opening

Prof Sondra Hale – Something Resembling ‘Truth’: Reflections on Critical Pedagogy in the New ‘Post-Truth’ Landscape

Hale mentioned Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny (2017) and editors Robert H. Haworth and John M. Elmore’s Out of the Ruins (2017) about radical informal learning spaces. The sad reality is that most of our institutions hold us back unless we’re talking about money-making projects. She offered a challenge to people’s thinking about social media and the digital world, saying maybe we need to challenge our own assumptions about social media and our desire to offset it; there’s a lot of resistance to digital pedagogy and e-learning by those traditionally trained. We may be interfering with decolonizing and deconstructionist work going on online. During Q&A someone said that one way of getting girls over math anxiety is by teaching them introductory statistics, then having them go into the field and come back and act as a peer network; it is more powerful if peers challenge each other and learn rather than having a teacher say, this is a good transferable skill. Regarding past feminisms, Hale reflected that we have an enormous archive but we don’t seem to agree on how to instrumentalize that archive. There is still often a big split between feminists of color and white feminists, and the women of the Global South have a lot to offer but often aren’t listened to. One continuing issue is the focus on promotion and metrics, which takes emphasis off activism. For example, if lecturers starting out are told to not sign any petitions for seven years till they get tenure, the problem is that they can lose themselves in those years and leave that person behind, become part of the establishment. She hopes for a seeking of freedom and respect and listening to each other. She said one of the wisest things someone has told her is that “it’s in the room”, meaning the wisdom and experience to make change is already present.

Day 2 – December 10

Prof Raewyn Connell – Truth, Power, Pedagogy: Feminist Knowledge and Educational Practice

Connell began by saying she wanted to locate us in economic and social history first. Big lies in politics are not new – remember Stalin and Goebbels – and someone in the Nazi higher-ups said that what matters is not what is true or false but what is believed. Another example of this is Bismarck carving up Africa on the pretense of civilizing the natives. Lies seem to come from holders of significant global power. But there is a new geometry of power that is transnational, comprised of: oligarchs (e.g. millionaires), transnational corporations and CEOs, dictators and generals, and neoliberal state managers (e.g. at the World Bank). It’s practically a masculine monopoly and any women there have to act like a man. The world economy is heterogeneous, more layered and gendered, but this isn’t factor in classical capitalist formulations. There are real threats like security but also fantasy threats put forward by elites. She showed a picture of a rugby player and cheerleaders in pink, bikini-like clothing and said that rugby’s division of gender roles is reflective of corporate culture, a recuperation of masculinity. She mentioned Mara Viveros Vigoya, a theorist on gender violence in Latin America. Since its inception feminism has had to struggle against big lies about gender (essentialism) and they’re still floating around in contemporary politics. There is the idea that equality is attained, and that problems are in the past.

This is bad because it is so untrue. Half of the world’s population is rural, and Bina Agarwal’s A Field of One’s Own (2010) about land rights in South Asia shows that who owns property is really important. Even if the gender gap in wages (as the media reports it) is not ‘revolutionary-able’ at 13-20%, on global average, women’s income is only 60% of men’s and that is something that calls for a revolution. The attack on gender theory and studies by the right is also concerning. Critique is an essential part of building knowledge rather than just replicating information you hear. We need truthfulness that is concerned with honesty, inclusivity, and corrigibility (ability to be debated and corrected) rather than truth as a fixed pillar. We cannot treat pedagogy as knowledge transfer, i.e. thinking of it as pouring a jug of golden liquid into students. It is not just individuals who learn but collectives and societies they are a part of. She mentioned feminist Jean Blackburn who discussed how education affects men and boys not just women and girls.

During Q&A there was a question about Indigenous knowledge in education, that Indigenous frameworks of knowledge were actually what colonialism denied. Connell said that in higher education, there are examples of Indigenous universities around the world but it’s challenging. Overall, it’s mostly curriculum from the Global North in universities around the world, and any Indigenous content if present is marginalized. Another question was about why there is such a disconnect between education people and feminist and gender studies scholars? Why is feminist pedagogy absent? Connell suggested that education is considered to be at the bottom of totem pole so that could be one issue. Teacher regulation has gotten stricter too. She said to try to convince your colleagues of the value of engaging with the other side. Stefan Collini’s What Are Universities For? (2012) was mentioned, and the idea that there need to be more connections between what goes on at universities and everyday life, that there can be a continuum of science and everyday problem-solving in a “hybrid academic”.

Jessica Butler – Trumpeting the Horn: Dominant Masculinity, Self-Promotion, and Discourses of Success in Neoliberal English Academia

Butler presented a definition of hegemonic masculinity from Connell and Metterschmidt’s “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept” (2005), and mentioned Liz Morrish’s “The Rise of the Trump Academic” (2016). There is a push back against resilience as individualizing and not addressing problems in the system. What was meant to be a measurement quickly becomes a target (metrics).

Christine Cunningham – What Do Chinese School Leaders think about Gender Equality?

Cunningham was asked to discuss Western educational leadership with Chinese school leaders at a Chinese university that trains teachers. She noted some of the challenges in working in a different country and getting used to using WeChat for her research. Just 4.5% of mainland China’s higher education institution leaders are female, and around the world, women predominate at lower levels like kindergarten but are rare at higher levels. She said that 50% of all women in the world are from China, so it is an important area to look at in this context.

Richard Waller – Degrees of Gendered Distinction: Young Male Undergraduates and Their Complex and Classed Negotiations of Masculinity

Waller discussed The Paired Peers Project, worked on with co-author Nicola Ingram. They followed a cohort of young men for seven years and what capital they brought with them (economic, social, and cultural) to university, what capital they acquired, and how they might mobilize these as they entered the job market. He mentioned Mike Savage’s Social Class in the 21st Century (2016) about class in 21st century Britain. They found that David Beckham, Tim Brabants, Ray Mears, and Ranulph Fiennes embodied working class masculinity for working-class men in the study when they were asked about role models and men they looked up to. These men were perceived to have traits such as self-sufficiency, ‘man against nature’. But middle-class men were likely to point to men like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stephen Fry, Johnny Cash, Ryan Reynolds, and Christopher Hitchens, believing they had traits such as being intellectual and good-looking. Waller suggested that there wasn’t actually a crisis in masculinity but rather there were attempts to forge together multiple forms of masculinity; thus, masculinity is not in crisis but in flux, being adapted and reimagined.

Karen Monkman and Lisa Hoffman – ‘Breaking the Cycle’: Metaphors in Girls’ Education Policy Discourse

They paid particular attention to the language in policies around girls’ education and how that shapes decisions, and they specifically looked at metaphors. They examined over 400 publicly available policy documents starting in 1995, deliberately choosing front-facing rather than internal documents. In the Phase 1 documents (1995-2005), examples of metaphors included cycle, the body, and journey. Banking was the most prominent image; all organizations except Oxfam linked girls’ education to economic growth. The Forum for African Women Educationalists had the only non-Western metaphor of a cooking pot. In the Phases 2 & 3 documents (2005-2013), it was harder to find metaphors. The language had shifted from transactional language to empowerment; also, that education is a human right, meaning there was less emphasis on justifying education for other reasons. The term gender was used more often than sex but there was no change in meaning. There were now mentions of not leaving boys behind. They noticed phrases such as ‘girls are vulnerable’ but no mention of boys and men as perpetrators (and use of the passive voice obscured the male role in what ‘happens’ to women). They mentioned USAID’s ‘Girls in the Garage’ video featuring 2 young women in a car repair shop in Morocco as an example of an organization attempting to show women learning something outside of traditionally gendered occupations, although it’s unclear how this video is being perceived. UNESCO Global Education Monitoring ReportThey also discussed the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report for 2018, which shows the different definitions of gender as noun, verb, etc, and how these different conceptions lead to different outcomes, such as counting bodies in seats rather than measuring something else.

Alison Twells – Sex and Gender in the Archive: The Creation of History Undergraduates as ‘World-Ready Citizens’

Twells’ presentation was an interesting insight into some ways of being a feminist history teacher in the academy rather than resigning oneself to traditional curricula. She discussed how historians often struggle to connect research with real-life, i.e. find uses of history in the real world. They may try to talk about how students gain transferable skills (cue university mission statements) or the ability to discern and defend the ‘truth’, or something else similarly nebulous about contextualizing history and seeing where we’ve come from. She said that scholars have argued we need to scaffold history to make it more applicable to the real world because that’s not currently happening. She asked, what if we started with social justice and problems and used history to achieve students thinking more about them? She was inspired by Aly Raisman’s work on trying to move the culture (women don’t have to be modest to be respected). She showed us an example of having her students explore real war-time letters between a sailor and airforceperson and a young woman (who was unsure if she should ‘give in’) and see for themselves how women were historically exploited and pressured to have sex – that it’s not something new. There is a concern that women still see sex as something for men, similar to what the woman back then saw as pressure to ‘give in’.primary source collections

Twells discussed how we don’t actually deal with these issues in history anymore. In the last 20 years women and gender as topics have been in retreat in history; students aren’t exposed to gender theory, or gender issues in relation to imperialism. There is a shift to military history, and more boys taking classes (60/40 ratio in class makeup). Women may only be marginalized, such as in ‘a week of women in Germany’ etc. So she kept the existing class which was an introductory history module with a public history theme, but she reworked it to shift away from cutlery and industry. She used existing library collections such as the Mary Anne Rawson Papers, HJ Wilson Collection, Painted Fabrics, and Edward Carpenter Collection to discuss a variety of feminist issues, starting with the concept of what did she want students to go away with? She shared some of the feedback; although some students said they wanted a ‘proper history of Sheffield’ or more on industry, there were others who liked it and even said that studying history had made them more open-minded. takeaways for studentsThe assessment was also a move away from the traditional essay, consisting of a project with a poster and them having to submit a pre-plan and reflection afterward.

Sandra Schmidt – Spatiality as a Feminist Critique of Civic Engagement

Schmidt opened by expressing her interest in ‘critical geography’ and the idea that women are often positioned as vulnerable citizens in the space they inhabit. She mentioned Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou’s Disposession (2013) – and that there can be dispossession of land and rights but also of the mind. Citizenship is a Western concept. It has to happen somewhere, in some place. So, by manipulating borders, citizenship can be closed off for people. For example, when Department of Motor Vehicle locations were closed in Alabama, making it harder for people to register to vote. She was interested in 1st-time marchers at the Women’s March in Washington, DC, and elsewhere in January 2016, so she interviewed women (mostly white women) over a year about their thoughts and experiences. Many couldn’t articulate exactly what compelled them to participate. The relational aspect was important: the feeling of being one of many, and having a continued sense of responsibility to strangers they met that encouraged them to take further action afterward. The huddles mirrored the consciousness-raising of the 1970s. Some expressed that they felt they had been good citizens before but hadn’t been active citizens until now. One effect of the marches has been that pussy hats still disrupt the landscape (such as in New York), and men wear them too.

#MeToo, Gender, and Pedagogies Symposium

Emily Gray and Mindy Blaise – #MeToo, Gender, and Pedagogies #FEAS

One reason why #MeToo has been a drip rather than a wave in Australia may be that Australia has tough anti-defamation laws. They looked at where are the pedagogical spaces for #MeToo. In discussing the results of the Community Attitudes Survey, they highlighted that it shows 36% believe women don’t appreciate all that men do for them. We were asked to take a minute to think about that (‘alright, that’s long enough!’). The university is still largely based on ‘white Cartesian male’ ways of knowing, which is an obstacle to change.

Sue Jackson – #Metoo: A Critical Digital Education?: Young People, Sexual Harassment Media, and Potential for Change

Jackson discussed Tearaway, a magazine which is 100% created by and for New Zealand youth, and research from her recent article “Young feminists, feminism, and digital media”. (2018). She also discussed digital media as project sharing and digital ethnography using Whatsapp.

Mary Lou Rasmussen – #MeToo and @Australian Universities: Pedagogies of Rape and Sexual Assault

Rasmussen discussed the messiness of conversations with students about #MeToo and consent, but said there can’t be an ‘end result’ because these are inherently complex issues that require ongoing discussion. She mentioned Debra Ferreday’s “Game of Thrones, Rape Culture, and Feminist Fandom” (2015), Saxon Mullins’ “I Am That Girl” Four Corners ABC program, which revealed some of the complexities of consent, and End Rape on Campus Australia’s The Red Zone Report (2018).

Eva Reimers – An Educational Response to #MeToo

Reimers gave us an insight into what the #MeToo movement looked like in Sweden. She said it was a very strong movement in Sweden with lots of hashtags for different industries. She explained the term femonationalism, a concept from Sara R. Farris, which means having feminism and equality as a national trait. Sweden likes to think of itself this way. There is also homonationalism, a concept developed by Jasbir K. Puar, which is the equivalent for LGBT. Because Sweden has focused on equality in terms of representation and equal pay, there has not been as much focus on sexuality and power. This makes it difficult to address sexual harassment against women, but also difficult to silence women in #MeToo.

Reimers discussed what was happening in the education space in response to #MeToo. Research showed that problems were happening in schools as well, meaning that schools are not safe spaces but spaces that make sexual harassment possible. Students don’t learn about consent, gender norms, respect, and sex. And according to students, many teachers are passive – they know it’s happening but do nothing. This presents a challenge for teacher training. Even though sexuality and relationships education has been obligatory since 1955, we have to wonder what have we been doing all this time? Better preparation for teachers is one thing that could address this problem.

Jessica Ringrose – #MeToo – Digital Feminist Activism and Challenging Rape Culture

Ringrose discussed the Digital Feminist Activism book and her work in interviewing activist organizers and everyday participants (digitalfeminism.co.uk). digital feminist consciousness raisingShe discussed digital feminist consciousness-raising and how Twitter can sustain feminist politics, mentioning that 33% of interviewees found learning experiences on Twitter that they weren’t getting at school. Twitter is often seen as safer than being a feminist in real life. The term digilante (digital vigilante) is used to refer to going after trolls.

Carli Rowell – The Myth and Post-truth of Social Mobility through Elite University Education: A Feminist Ethnography

Rowell discussed how social mobility is often not articulated in those terms, instead being discussed as a person wanting economic security or escaping precarious employment. Classism remains largely absent on campus social justice campaigns.

Gail Crimmins – A Case Study of Using Feminist Pedagogy in Policy Negotiation

One reason given for the persistence of gender inequality in the academy is that women fail to formally report or challenge perceived gender discrimination due to the risk involved (e.g. name the problem and become the problem, get iced out of projects, etc.). It is also ‘academic housework’ and takes time. Margaret Heffernan quoteCrimmins mentioned a quote from Margaret Heffernan – that passionate debate is a sign people care; deadly silence is bad. For those who weren’t aware, an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) in Australia trumps university policies. It can be helpful to looks at other EBAs for potentially good clauses that appear to be effective. She said it is important that female students see women in top academic positions – they may need to ‘see it to believe it’ – and thus the work is not just for ourselves, but for our students too.

Lisa French – Creating Gender-Sensitive Journalism, Media and ICT Curricula

French mentioned a number of resource and organizations of interest, including the UNESCO Unitwin Network, Gender Media and ICTs: A New Syllabi for Media, Communication and Journalism, which covers 10 countries from 5 regions and is soon to go to press, the Global Alliance on Media and Gender, Gender-Sensitive Indicators for Media (UNESCO resource), and the strategy for gender equality in the European film industry.

A definition for gender sensitivity or gender awareness can be found at the European Institute for Gender Equality (https://eige.europa.eu/rdc/thesaurus/terms/1218). She discussed how leaders being invested is important for change and once you have data, you have more evidence for action. The forthcoming book aims to address the issue that most journalism programs (and advertising) she has seen don’t have a gender unit or component.

Day 3 – December 11

Prof Jane Kenway – Unpopular Truths about Populism and Feminism

Kenway opened by discussing how the rise of the right is a clear and present danger, our current conjuncture. Elected officials in some French districts are getting rid of left-wing books and literature. Hannah Arendt’s term ‘banality of evil’ and Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (1971) were mentioned. She said the Guardian ran a series on populism and a quiz: how populist are you? that everyone could take afterward. Oxford University Press has a handbook on populism, but only one chapter on populism and gender. She discussed some of the thinking behind the left and right-wing. The right-wing generally sees itself as the common people versus the elites who are undemocratic. The right-wing thinks the elite are coddling out groups, those the left-wing considers marginalized. Meanwhile, the left-wing thinks oligarchs and wealth inequality are the problem. ‘She may be a woman but she ain’t no sister’ someone had said about Margaret Thatcher. When right-wing populists focus on the elites, they are mostly referring to cultural influencers (filmmakers, actors, lecturers, journalists, scientists, and vegans); these people are responsible for shaping what people can see or hear and limiting what they can say. Feminists are seen as waging war against traditional gender roles and values and winning. In discussing the alt right, she said they have a very reactionary mode of masculinity that at times mobilizes an abject agency (‘let us scum in’). A lot of the leaders are very wealthy, and they are also funded by ‘respectable’ conservatives. only elites make historyThey believe only the elites make history. Kenway discussed how we have a crisis of the human and the humane. Glass ceiling/elite feminism thinks power will trickle down, but as we know, it doesn’t. Questions to ponder include why can’t there be more horizontal links with feminists in the subaltern, and what would feminist pedagogy look like if it addressed right-wing populists? A ‘populist feminist pedagogy’ might seek to find common ground and rebuild the commons, and engage in struggles about meaningfulness and materiality. The so-called sensible center isn’t working for so many people. Books mentioned included Robert Verkaik’s Posh Boys (2018), Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies (2017), Kate Manne’s DownGirl: The Logic of Misogyny (2017), Nancy Fraser’s The Old is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born (forthcoming), and Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser’s Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (forthcoming).

Jennifer Fraser – Feminist Killjoys and Queer Failures: Re-thinking (Student) Satisfaction in Higher Education

Fraser argued that we need to think about the non-normative experiences of those for whom the university isn’t designed in all the talk of student experience. Partnership can be thought of as a mode or ethos of working that includes collective collaborative practices. For contemporary students, the need to perform, compete, achieve desired outcomes, and enhance their future labor market profile become key modes of self-discipline (see Macfarlane and Tomlinson’s “Critiques of student engagement” (2017)).

Niamh Ni Shuilleabhain – How can we Enact Pedagogy to be More Responsive to Body Disaffection and Eating Disorders in Schools? Beyond Body Image to New Materialist Inquiry

Shuilleabhain’s research is exploring bodily pedagogy in schools. She held dozens of workshops that trialled different modes of pedagogy around issues of body disaffection. She is taking a socio-critical rather than a psychological approach, which can overestimate individual agency. One issue was the ethics of working with young people and what was appropriate for their context. Looking at how body pedagogies are reinforced in school, it became clear there were various tensions of uncertainty around the content. Teachers seemed to prefer clear certainty that could lead to clear outcomes in order to avoid risk in the school. One interesting finding was that just having something (such as a new student center) or providing more staff hours might not be enough to convince students to get support or might not be the type of support they need. Also, teachers and space make a big difference to students’ affectivities and feelings.

Nehir Gündoğdu – How Possible to be a Feminist Preschool Teacher in Turkey?

Gündoğdu discussed her journey understanding feminist concepts overseas and taking her knowledge back to Turkey to better understand how teachers of young children think about gender roles in the classroom. She asked teachers to think about different scenarios she provided which showed a teacher responding, including staying silent, trying to ensure equality of opportunity, and challenging pre-existing beliefs by talking things through with the children. She discussed the challenges in gathering interview data in that data has agency and can lead you to new places, but that it is also a challenge to be an emergent listener and not direct things where you already think they should go. She found that those who say that boys and girls are equal may not operate as if this is true in practice due to reasons including religion and wanting to maintain traditional ways of doing things.

Session on Gender and Digital Technologies

Akane Kanai – Digital Feminist Citizenship and the Labour of Learning

Kanai discussed her research on how feminists interact in digital spaces and learn about feminist topics, and how they position themselves as feminists within the potentially disciplinary environments of the digital world. For everyday feminist self-education, feminists might engage in immersion, social media customization, doing ‘feminist homework’ beyond the 9-5 (see Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life (2017)), following high-profile feminists, and not following people you don’t like the content of. One person ‘graduated’ from Tumblr and took an MIT gender course on indigenous content and found it better than her university experience/education. Such self-education is seen as everyday responsible feminist activity, but there is also competition to be ‘in the know’ and keep up. U.S. celebrity culture was used to help feminists understand shifts in feminism, such as explaining white and intersectional feminism and using Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift as examples of white failure. Intersectional may be used as an identity for self (‘I am intersectional’) rather than a framework. There were also private, women-only Facebook groups with a declaration of intersectional feminist identity required for entry. One person felt the discussions in the group had a very shallow attitude of learning and deliberation and discovered an antagonistic side to members when she posted about a TV show she liked and received criticism for days that the show wasn’t intersectional. The hypervigilance to call out in this way has led to people feeling excluded and anxious. Kanai asked what is it actually achieving for feminism.

Jessica Ringrose – Feminist Activism, Anti-Feminism, Queer Positivity, and Digital Defence in Educational Contexts

Ringrose discussed the current period as being one of “popular feminisms and popular misogyny” (see Sarah Banet-Weiser’s work) and mediated misogyny. The expression of feminism and anti-feminism has shifted in the last seven to ten years. She discussed young women doing all their ‘feministing’ in a port-o-cabin. They weren’t allowed to put up feminist posters they wanted to because they were considered too angry and combative; they also had to change the name of their proposed club to equality group and not have feminist in the title. Ringrose also discussed toxic mediated ‘geek masculinity’ (see Anastasia Salter and Bridget Blodgett’s Toxic Geek Masculinity in Media (2017) and Kylie Jarrett’s work) which reproduces elements of MRA ideology and professes new forms of gender expertise (see Debbie Ging’s “Alphas, Betas, and Incels: Theorizing the Masculinities of the Manosphere” (2017)). A belief in false rape allegations is still a huge problem, as is the shaming of any body who performs feminism. As an alternative to the negative content available on social media, some students created an Instagram account called the.queer.cacti which is an LGBTQA+ Safe Zone about queer positivity. It was created when they were 13, and they have had to develop a lot of digital literacy around what to post and what not (i.e. how to curate). The positive response to it has helped them recognize how powerful posts are in shaping how people think.

Kath Albury – Digital Media Literacy in Sexuality Education: Engaging with Professional Practice

Albury discussed the need for teachers to improve their digital literacy and not rely on excuses about not having grown up with the same kind of technology that young people do now. As long as you have a framework for media studies, you can adapt to new media accordingly. There is little consensus in the literature on what is best practice for sexuality education. Many teachers cherry-pick from the curriculum on what they think will work at their school. This means they may avoid sexting or continue to do abstinence-only even though they know it doesn’t work because it’s the default. One issue is that most of them didn’t have any media training, or if they did have it, they only had a half-day in-service, and most training focuses on images and representation, not user practices or other things like platforms. Albury discussed how everyone was talking about sexualisation in 2008; now everyone is talking about screens and mobile phones. They can be worn on the body and taken everywhere, and they offer the ability to share and stream frictionlessly. Unfortunately, having young people simply analyse a Dove ad about representation doesn’t cover this kind of scope. There is a need to move away from thinking about media as something that happens to a young person where they have to make positive or negative decision, because they are creators as well. Media literacy needs to be more than an interpretation of images. It needs to include how images move, what the tacit rules of engagement are (like Akane Kanai discussed), and how the terms of service operate (e.g. one kind of nipple is okay, another is not). There are also considerations of how corporations like Google are creating a world where they are in control, and how nation-states may change things (as in the GDPR).

Deborah Lupton – Vital Materialism and Women’s Use of Digital Health

Lupton discussed how embodied affordances work with technology affordances. She interviewed women in Australia, mostly urban but about a quarter rural, about their use of technology in relation to health. Everyone used Google to look up health information and used it to determine whether or not to go to doctor. Many got a lot out of ‘lurking’ or listening online and not being active; some were really active and started up Facebook support groups for various health issues. One-half used wearables and apps to monitor their bodies. On online groups, mothers knew to avoid topics like vaccination and breast vs. bottle feeding because otherwise others would blow up. Younger women liked menstrual apps and felt like they had better control and could prepare for their cycles. There was sometimes frustration at an app or wearables, including someone who couldn’t use a pain app because of pain in her hands. This study highlighted the affordances of tech but also the downsides of the lack of diversity in design. For example, tech is often not designed for women with babies and may not be able to adjust for a woman’s needs once she has given birth.

Kara Kennedy – My Session

I presented on digital literacy and Digital Humanities, and how these might be used by tertiary teachers to help teach students how to navigate and learn in a post-truth environment.

Caroline Mahoney – Which Girls? Where? Interrogating Populist Images of Girls, Education and Interculturality

Mahoney and co-author Claire Charles found that aspects of exclusion and othering are an everyday occurrence for most girls. Although outsiders might see white girls as the most privileged in a group, that is not necessarily how they see themselves. One participant expressed interest in becoming a doctor but since she saw mainly Asian doctors in her environment, she constructed herself as marginalized/disadvantaged in comparison and was able to blame that as the reason not to strive for her dream, thus not being able to engage in interculturality.

Roberta Thompson – Noticing Teenage Girls’ Friendship Practices in Cybersafety Curriculum

Thompson said this was one of the outcomes of a postdoctoral project, available at www.girlssocialmediaproject.com. The context was the 2003 Australian National Safe Schools Project, and a gamechanger was Web 2.0, iPhones, Instagram, and Snapchat. In 2018 there was a renewal of cyberbullying panics when a girl committed suicide. Research shows that boys and girls are online for the same amount of time but there are gendered differences. For example, girls are on more social sites. This results in some different problems for boys and girls online. She made a point that she uses Erving Goffman’s frame analysis and impression management but not his sexist philosophy. There are really conflicting things going on for girls in terms of how they negotiate the online world alongside their friendships. When we ask them to report, we’re asking them to go against their friendships. There are different terms for this based on class. At a primarily working-class school, anyone who tells parents or teachers about problematic online content is called a ‘snitch’, and at a more middle-class school, it is considered ‘social suicide’ to do this. This shows that there is a need to unpack the affective domain for these girls, such as their worries. Friendship is a powerful influencer that’s not accounted for in cybersafety curriculum.

Day 4 – December 12

Prof Susan Page – Back from Oblivion: Transformative Indigenous Learning Journeys in Australian University Curricula

Page is working on Indigenous graduate attributes at the Centre for Advancement of Indigenous Knowledges (CAIK) at the University of Sydney. She acknowledged that Indigenous studies is a study of discomfort. She discussed NAIDOC Week, wherein Indigenous people celebrate across Australia, and that it stems from 1920s activism. Counter-narratives are part of critical race theory. Many Aboriginal men served in World War I despite not being counted in the census, and they are still not recognized (for example in the local memorial walk in Newcastle funded by a mining company), and this is similar to how women are neglected. In making a comparison to New Zealand, she said to us, a treaty is a very powerful thing, even though New Zealanders may debate about it. The truth for our elders is the antidote to the big lies of Australia (such as that there was no one here, Aboriginals weren’t taking care of children, they couldn’t speak the language). She mentioned how Trevor Noah got in hot water over an old ‘joke’ about Aboriginal women and didn’t seem to realize that it was wrong and offensive. She discussed the concept of Indigenous women trying to cite other women. She asked where are the silences in history? The William Dawes diaries are known and digitized but not Patyegarang, the 15-year-old young woman who appears to have been Dawes’ language teacher (although she has finally been acknowledged on the website). Page expressed her dismay that it is very hard to find any information on another woman, Ipeta, who was the only survivor of Myall Creek Massacre, and that she will make it her mission to change that. Barangaroo is the name of a new Darling Harbor development in Sydney; we can debate using those names for colonizer’s buildings, but at least her name will be on people’s lips. She mentioned the film Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) which is fairly well-known.

Moving on to discuss the Indigenous graduate attributes in more detail, she said university graduates can and should know about Aboriginal history and cultures in the curriculum. This idea has been floated since 25-30 years ago, then again 10 years ago. Now there is the Universities Australia Indigenous Strategy 2017-2010, which can be used as a powerful tool. It was developed in close consultation with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium. She indicated that ‘the times they are a’changin’ – it’s pretty exciting to be around at this time. It’s hard work but exciting. She mentioned Gloria Ladson-Billings’ (1998) ground-breaking work on critical race theory and education and her quote that the official curriculum is a “culturally specific artifact designed to maintain a White supremacist master script” (p. 18). This is confronting to hear but important. Page discussed how disciplines cannot, will not, and should not exclude us, and that’s the work she’s doing along with other Indigenous scholars. Then, there is the constant tension/challenge that their knowledge will get co-opted. The Deconstruction Exercise can be used to help create safe spaces for teaching in relation to the Indigenous graduate attributes. Students can write questions on paper to avoid unproductive ‘blaming and shaming’ (ex. why do they drink so much? why are they so uneducated?). Page acknowledged that there’s risk for us in telling our own stories, but they’re important in giving students a transformative learning journey and letting them see the iceberg underneath the Aboriginal world. If the students get upset, they have to learn to work through their emotions. Returning to the subject of the memorial walk in Newcastle, she said because it wasn’t designed by people with a broader awareness of Aboriginal history and cultures, it doesn’t have the voices of others.

I asked a question about how to deal with resistance from faculty to the implementation of graduate attributes related to multi-culturalism/diversity. She said the institution has to be ready with most faculty on board and there need to be senior Indigenous leaders who can champion and drive the work. Sometimes this means asserting authority in the context of the hierarchical structure of the university because that’s what people understand in that context.

Symposium on The International Network on Gender, Social Justice and Praxis (the Network)

Penny Jane Burke (Professor and Global Innovation Chair of Equity and Director of the Centre of Excellence in Equity in Higher Education at the University of Newcastle and one of the conference organizers) introduced The International Network on Gender, Social Justice and Praxis, otherwise known as the Network. International Network on Gender, Social Justice and PraxisIt has a commitment to feminist, Freirean praxis and develops research for critical, feminist pedagogical resources to generate ethical spaces of practice. It defines feminist praxis as making visible the invisible, marginalized dimensions of social life – paying close attention to the (gendered) politics of knowledge and knowing, and understanding how political forces are deeply intersecting to (re)produce inequalities. She mentioned letter writing as a feminist praxis, which is discussed in their Occasional Paper 02. Other members of the network briefly presented on projects they are involved in. Saajidha Sader discussed The South African Project which looks at the collusion between academics and the corporate culture of university, and the need to ask the hard questions of how feminist academics both encourage and resist neoliberalism. There wasn’t time to go over some of the other techniques the project uses, but they have used a timeline and community mapping with participants to get them to think about their journey too. Sondra Hale and Gada Kadoda discussed the formation of social justice spaces, anti-racism workshops, and Sudanese feminists’ resistance. They deal with black vs black racism, not just white vs. black as is often the case. They train potential teachers on diversity issues so they can go out and raise awareness themselves. Laura Ila Misiaszek discussed the Gender-Health-Education Council (GHEC) and working with CircleWays.org. The audience broke out into groups to discuss some of the different projects that the Network is involved in, and then the groups reported back to the main group.

I went with the small group on The South African Project, and we discussed neoliberalism and the university. Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark (2005) was mentioned as a good resource for activists. Various people discussed how they see activism in relation to teaching: that activism and teaching are discipline-specific, such as how in social work, they have to teach students who will go out into world and interact with clients; that teachers can view teaching as their primary form of activism even though it is not as obvious as protests. In fact, teaching can be quite difficult because it often requires that feminists be vulnerable in the classroom every time they enter it. It was mentioned that we need all forms of activism because we don’t know which will be effective in the long term. When other groups reported back, it was mentioned that people really need to share their stories first before you can work on other things, and you need to make time for this when talking with them.

Hannah Taino-Spick – Veteran Bodies: Feminist Interventions in the Post-Truth, Populist, and Authoritarian Australian Military

Taino-Spick discussed her journey undertaking university studies after being discharged from the Australian military, with her now doing a PhD interviewing veterans and unpacking the complexities of discharge through feminist and poststructural lenses (including Butler’s performativity, Kristeva’s abjection, and Foucault). She acknowledged that she has had to rely on largely American content for the literature review, but that this can fit with how Australia sees itself in terms of its experience of modern warfare (i.e. similar to Global North). One of the issues with discharge is that it is subjective; it’s impossible to just write a policy to manage discharge or an application to discharge. It is an ongoing journey of ‘becoming’ for veterans post-discharge. There can’t be one ‘truth’ about discharge; in reality it contains multiple truths, and she now knows that it is not a simple and linear process but much more complex.

Britney Brinkman – Hate Speech Protected as Free Speech: Barriers to Gender Equity in Schools

Brinkman began by reminding the audience of the context of the recent synagogue killing – that hate speech has real consequences. She mentioned the Rand Corporation’s 2018 report on ‘truth decay’ and George Lakoff’s definition of hate speech as able to be a physical imposition on freedom of others because of a psychological effect being imposed physically. She presented an eye-opening case study of a patriot’s club started at a small Catholic school in the U.S. where she examined girls’ experience of oppression. The club was billed as a ‘veterans’ group club, but in actuality it had a white nationalist agenda and was an alt-right manosphere consisting of white males. Meanwhile, a year before other students were told they couldn’t form a gay-straight alliance club (but they could name it a diversity club) and faced a lot of resistance. The patriot’s club members would dominate class discussions and eventually caused the girls to feel unsafe and even stop speaking out because they were tired of arguing. This effectively amounting to a silencing of girls, with gendered power dynamics at work because they boys were permitted to do what they liked and the girls were expected to just ignore them. The girls were considered feminist killjoys if they didn’t. The message came across that how the adult staff responded was definitely noticed and discussed by the students. Even though the staff might not have condoned the boys’ activity, a lack of response was interpreted by the students in this way. Even though the staff might have quietly supported girls’ efforts to challenge the boys’ behavior, the official response did not match. Essentially, a similar trend in the mainstream was present, that ‘freedom of speech’ was interpreted as being for white males but not for marginalized groups.

Closing Comments

At the end of the conference, several people gave a brief overview of their thoughts and reflections, and this was an encouraging close to several long days of ideas and relationship-building. Penny Jane Burke expressed gratitude for the feminist spaces created by the conference, for the keynotes taking us on a genealogical and theoretical journey, and that there were also signs of hope. Akane Kanai said she would take away wanting to think more about the politics of listening. Gada Kadoda proposed having some way of bringing together the ideas and theories discussed at the conference to be able to build on a repository for future conferences and projects. This would help people from other disciplines too. It was also discussed what a GEA conference might look like in other countries and what different focus areas it could have. Jessica Gagnon, who had been managing the GEA’s Twitter account during the conference, put on screen some screenshots of the many tweets during the conference, which helped illustrate to those not on the platform what people were discussing online. She also discussed that we should think about what each of us individually can do, not just an abstract me, as well as what we can do collectively. It was mentioned that the conference had felt non-hierarchical, which I agree with. It was an engaging and thought-provoking several days, with lots to take back and share with the rest of our networks.

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?

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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