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 – because sexism 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.