‘Power Dressing’ examines how dress codes create and uphold identity expectations in the academy. As universities become more corporatised staff are expected to adopt similarly corporate, entrepreneurial identities. Conventional conceptions of business masculinise, streamline, tailor and unify staff. Women academics working in the corporatised university perform additional invisible labour as they find ways to adopt and adapt their appearances to fit.
A reversible jacket is the focus of Power Dressing. The jacket resembles something akin to the masculinist dress codes that emerged in 1980s. The sumptuous fabrics, the large shoulder pads are reminiscent of popular culture and television shows that began to script women characters as powerful, wealthy, in control, untouchable – and also as highly contrived: glamorous, subjugated, identical.
The Power Dressing jacket is reversible because women must constantly switch roles in the various contexts they find themselves in as professionals.
There is a metallic side. It is marked and tarnished, not a perfect sheen. This side symbolises the armour we must develop to fend off blows to our confidence and legitimacy, and the common feelings women have as imposters in the academy.
There is a fur side. The fur is fake but it makes reference to the ways that older women are portrayed as predatory – as ‘cougars’, preying on the young, driving sports cars, dressing inappropriately, liking loud music and so on. It also refers to the ways senior women are predatory in the academy, taking up senior roles such as Deans, and roles in the executive.
But – the fur side is also about being prey. Wild cats are rare, prized for their fur and distinct markings. Women can be powerful in the academy, but they are always, also, prey. Their presence in the academy is always at risk, always contingent.
The jacket is worn by feminist educators. Each person strikes a pose of strength, of power (in whatever way they wish), and a photograph is taken. As more photographs are added the exhibition features feminist educators from around the world.
Each person receives a copy of their particular photograph so that, where possible, the photograph is used as the official academic image for that person. The intervention then goes beyond the pop-up, beyond the exhibition.
The photographs intervene in each institution in continuous ways and in ways that speak of the power and diversity of each feminist educator.