This is our suite of arts-based feminist interventions into sexisms in the academy.
Project P: The Political, the Personal, the Practical
Welcome to PROJECT P: the most recent #FEAS Intervention. In light of the COVID-19 Pandemic we are setting out to put a PAUSE on the PANIC that many of us are feeling. Now, more than ever we need solidarity. PROJECT P: focuses on the political, the personal, and the practical as we attempt to slow down the endless accumulating news feeds and unrealistic work expectations about productivity during this pandemic.
Project P: has a colon, because it is an emerging project and we encourage you to make your own contribution to the beyond as new ways of being emerge from pandemic living.
A suite of 3 micro zine workshops took place April-July 2020.
Watch this space for more about Project P:
‘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.
All images by Linda Knight
Research shows that women often articulate their success in the academy as being due to luck or chance (see Diezmann and Grieshaber for examples). Therefore, we were interested in playing with the idea of luck and chance through a sexist/anti sexist bingo game that women delegates were invited to play throughout the AARE conference in 2016. The bingo card offered a commentary on the notion of luck and chance and also attends to the idea that academia is a game that we need to learn how to play.
#FEAS workshop participants designed the text boxes that replaced the traditional bingo numbers and we decided to include both sexist and anti-sexist experiences to acknowledge the diversity of experiences women have at conferences. Bingo was chosen as a format for intervening into sexism in the academy at conferences because of its association as a game of chance. Bingo is also closely associated with women, and with working class women in particular (Casey, 2003; Dixey, 1988). We therefore aimed to address both sexism and the notion of women’s achievements in academia being the result of luck and chance through our bingo intervention.
Bingo prizes and free feminist gifts were distributed through out the conference and included butterfly nets ‘for catching those elusive opportunities’; field glasses for ‘spotting sexism’; and whistles to ‘blow when no-one is paying attention’.
Stand up comedy – Sexism, it isn’t funny!
Our workshops we asked participants to condense their discussions of written testimonies about sexism in the academy into single sentences or phrases on postcards. We then took these and turned them into ‘jokes without a punchline’ that were performed as a pop-up, stand up comedy at AARE in 2016. Linda dressed as a 70’s style stand up comedian and read out these not so funny statements accompanied by canned laughter that was activated by Emily who stood to the side wearing a ‘feminist killjoy’ t-shirt. This performance is intended to draw attention to the slippery, evasive nature of everyday sexism by drawing upon irony. Because the statements are based on tragic experiences and we are presenting them as if they are funny, we are deliberately subverting sexism and literally representing the notion of the ‘feminist killjoy’.
We also performed stand up comedy at the Gender and Education conference held at Middlesex University UK in June 2017, this time using women’s written student feedback as an anxiety-inducing performance. Women were positioned by students in their feedback as ‘available 24/7’, ‘’a bitch’, or described in terms of their physical appearance. Research has shown that women get disproportionately bad feedback, especially if they teach gender of feminism. Therefore this performance aimed to highlight the affective dimensions of student feedback for women in the academy as well as alerting university management that feedback is a duty of care issue – staff should not have to read personal or offensive comments about themselves – it’s not funny!
The pipeline myth t-shirts, business cards and #FEAS logo
Our t-shirts, business cards, and the #FEAS (Feminist Educators Against Sexism) logo intend to draw attention to the marketisation of higher education and the notion of the corporate, neoliberal academic subject (read male). Participants in the workshop, particularly those who research around gender, felt that applying for funding has become increasingly futile because of governmental changes to funding priorities and the conditions of possibility for women generally in the academy. These interventions then reflect the ceaseless calls for self-promotion and the entrepreneurial academic, though these interventions are not for profit.
The statistical data we drew upon came from research carried out by Strachan et al. (2016), which demonstrated that sexism is endemic within Australian universities and that the academic ‘pipeline’ is a myth for many women.
We used Strachan et al’s statistics in a deliberately subversive way – for example the statistic of 7% women professors (Level E) in Australia represents that in the Australian academic workforce, 26% are professors and of those 7% are women, meaning that men outnumber women by more than 2 to 1 according to Strachan et al.’s research. We were not explicit about the statistic, allowing conference delegates to draw their own inferences and use the t-shirts as a discussion point about the gendered division of labour in Australian universities rather than as a social scientific ‘fact’. Each t-shirt was also accompanied with an information card that explains the concept of what we have now called The Pipeline Myth T-shirt, and remind those wearing it that they might activate interest and possibly questions. We encourage women to take this opportunity to explain the pipeline myth and how these statistics, which show that women are not moving through the pipeline from lecturer A to Professor, highlight a form of sexism. These interventions are then creating opportunities for women to practice telling stories of everyday sexism and why it matters to a range of audiences.
Letter writing campaigns are common in feminist networks, sparked in response to sexism and other injustices. For example in 2009 the London Feminist Network held a letter writing campaign to protest the ‘Girlation’ event held at the Natural History Museum: http://londonfeministnetwork.org.uk
#FEAS contribute to this feminist tradition by working collectively to call out injustices where we see them! We do so by working collectively on letters – if there is something you would like to call out, contact us! We are more powerful as a collective than as individuals.
#FEAS have your back!
If you have an issue of feminist concern that you would like us to send a letter about, let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Letter to the University of Melbourne to protest an event entitled The Future of Sex-based Rights, the promotion for which contained transphobic language
Dear Vice Chancellor,
Feminist Educators Against Sexism #FEAS are an international feminist collective committed to challenging and interrupting sexism in the academy. #FEAS are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, queer people, people of colour, trans* people, indigenous peoples, women, gender queer people, sex workers, people who identify with every letter of LGBTIQ and men. The thing that unites us is our feminism and a strong belief in challenging sexist oppression in every form it takes.
It has come to our attention that The University of Melbourne is hosting an event entitled The Future of Sex-based Rights, which is being co-hosted by the Victorian Women’s Guild. This event discusses, ‘A Bill currently before the Victorian parliament would, if passed, allow people to change their official record of sex by making a statutory declaration that they believe their sex to be as nominated’.
The advertising for the event asks, ‘What will this change mean for data collection, for example tracking sex equality outcomes, or for crime statistics? What are the implications for access to women’s single-sex spaces, or for measures put in place to tackle women’s underrepresentation? Why haven’t women been consulted on these changes?’
#FEAS find these statements to be deeply offensive as they perpetuate harmful assumptions that ‘women’ are a unified group whose sex assigned at birth matches their gender identity and that this is stable, true and irrefutable. We fear that trans* and gender diverse people will be framed during the event as ‘imposters’ to the spaces inhabited by ‘normal’ women and that they pose some kind of moral, physical and psychological threat to ‘women’ in these spaces.
We understand arguments about academic freedom and freedom of speech, but we also know the cost of these freedoms to oppressed and marginalised groups in our society who are too often spoken for not spoken with. Academic freedom is wonderful when it is academic (that is, based on rigorous research), but this kind of oppressive anti-intellectualism is dangerous because it co-opts the language of feminism to justify a position that can no longer be supported by either the physical or social sciences.
These concerns are reflected in the event because trans* and gender diverse people are not being represented within the group of speakers.
We hope that this letter, and the many other letters and petitions that you will receive about the event, will make the University mindful of the issues raised and to ensure in the future that the University campus is a safe space for everyone.
Sent on behalf of the #FEAS collective
Letter to the Taylor and Francis Group protesting the editor of the journal Disability and Society’s public transphobia.
Dear Taylor and Francis Group,
Feminist Educators Against Sexism #FEAS are an international feminist collective that was founded in Australia. #FEAS are committed to challenging and interrupting sexism in the academy. #FEAS are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, queer people, people of colour, trans* people, indigenous peoples, women, gender queer people, sex workers, people who identify with every letter of LGBTIQ and men. The thing that unites us is our feminism and a strong belief in challenging sexist oppression in every form it takes.
It has come to our attention that the editor of the journal Disability and Society, has publicly promoted anti-transgender sentiments and utilized their position as editor of a high-impact, international journal to suppress important trans scholarship. As examples, they have claimed on social media platforms that “transgender ideology” is harmful to children and adolescents; has promoted posts claiming trans suicide rates are myths; has argued against children’s self-identification in her own scholarship; and, perhaps most troubling given their position, has(ab)used their leadership role at Disability and Society to block the publication of an already-accepted article by scholars regarding the intersection of trans and disability studies.
This kind of oppressive behaviour does not belong in academia, especially in a publication that should be about championing the rights and vocalising the experiences of marginalised groups.
We understand arguments about academic freedom and freedom of speech, but we also know the cost of these freedoms to oppressed and marginalised groups in our society who are too often spoken for not spoken with.
We hope that you will listen to our concerns and the concerns of many other academics across the world who have similar concerns to us.
Sent on behalf of the #FEAS collective