Conference Blog: Panel Session IV, Saturday 22 June

Feminist Pedagogies

Jeanette Silva Flores ‘Feminist pedagogy in today’s university classrooms: a critical approach

 Silva Flores’ paper discussed her current doctoral research and the way that women in the UK self define as feminists. The research discusses women from different categorisations, for examples lecturers, readers and professors as well as women who belong to organisations such as FWSA and GEA. The paper discussed preliminary research findings based on interviews with female academics, looking at the different ways that you academics practice feminist pedagogies. Flores suggests that there are a number of approaches based on teaching experiences and theoretical views, as well as the actors and content of their courses. The paper suggested that feminist academics often faced hostility from departments as well as from students. However, there is also an engagement and acknowledgement of the value of some feminist pedagogy premises, that some students are more likely to link feminist content to their own experiences. Furthermore, one participant suggested that teaching feminism helped foster emotional and caring relationships. The paper suggested that even when teaching non-feminist causes engagement can occur. The paper looked at the challenges for feminist pedagogy. suggesting that the marketisation of higher education and general devaluing of teaching practices mean that feminist practices become devalued. The paper also noted that the increasingly instrumental view of Higher Education (based on skills for jobs rather than critical thinking)  means that there is a lack of reflexivity and space for feminist pedagogic practices. Finally the paper looked at the possiblities from the feminist university teacher to manoeuvre alternatives, especially for optional courses. Furthermore, engagement is more likely from Black women, non- white men and those from working class backgrounds. Community engagement also provides the opportunity to explore the social impact of research.


Dr Maria Do Mar Periera ‘Protesting Within and Outside the “Academia Without Walls” Contemporary Transformations in Higher Education and the (Im)Possibilities of Articulation of Activism  of Activism and Academic Work

This paper looked at the way in which the current work demands on academics affects their ability to activism. Do Mar Periera looked at what gets lost because we do research, especially due to the current precarious nature of academia. The paper emphasised that there has long been a sense within academia that one of the biggest obstacles for activism by academics is that activism has been seen to undermine epistemic authority, and that activism is seen to pollute and contaminate one’s work. Furthermore, the paper drew on the work of Morley and Bellacasa to suggest that there is an emphasis in academia on the division between politics and knowledge. This means that for women’s studies and feminist studies that there is an emphasis on marking the boundaries of what is proper knowledge and where feminist knowledge lies. The paper then went on to look at the way in which the nature of the assessment and emphasis on impact and knowledge transfer has led to an institutionalisation of impact, so that activism as a form fo activity that engages with communities may be increasingly valued as a form of impact. However, Do Mar Periera suggested that there is a paradox involved within this as activism is accepted but on the condition that the researcher meets the requirements to produce large amounts of research as quantity becomes an important aspect of designating value. The paper suggested that the paradox invoked by this is that in order to meet the requirements to publish or perish, one finds that they no longer have time to do activism. Finally, the paper looked at current trends in academia, including the intensification of work and space, so that any space becomes a place where one can potentially do work, whilst increasing demands mean that overtime has become naturalised. The paper suggested that this can be linked to the regime of performativity where the amount of research produced becomes synonymous with the quality of the work. Do Mar Periera suggested that in order to stop striving to be perfect and stop seeing the increasing demands of academia as an individualised problem, but part of a wider structural problem within academia.

 Professor Karen Boyle ‘Home and Away?: Public Education Campaigns Against Sexual Exploitation

 This paper looked at the messages that public education campaigns around the sexual exploitation of women. Boyle began by emphasising the importance of media studies scholars looking at the way that sexual exploitation is represented by media campaigns, and pointed to the fact that the media visibility of sex trafficking has had concrete repercussions for women who have been trafficked who are seeking asylum. However, Boyle suggested that the emphasis on stories of kidnap and abuse often make it difficult for other more complex stories to be officially heard. Drawing on the work of Andrijasevic, the paper analysed the way in which groups had conducted public information campaigns about trafficking. In one example, a poster that showed a naked woman, with strings like a puppet attached to her shoulders. Boyle suggested the image represented trafficked woman as devoid of agency, passive, whilst the image was eroticising.  Furthermore, many of the adverts, focused on the idea of preventing women from making bad choices, juxtaposing innocence with knowledge.  The images presented the trafficked women at the centre, whilst male roles within trafficking were not alluded to. Boyle suggested that in these posters women are seen as either objects of either surveillance or consumption, with campaigns that insist on the boundaries between “them” and “us”. Boyle compared two ‘Look Below the Surface’ campaigns around people who had been trafficked not for the purposes of sexual exploitation  and those who had and suggested that images in these posters focus on the idea that we need to look beneath the surface as there is no visible signs of trafficking. In these posters, the trafficked person is pictured alone. In contrast, Boyle showed that in the campaign about sex trafficking, the woman is pictured with a man looming over her, with the punter as the one who has done the finding, and it is the punter who is seen as the potential rescuer with his sense of entitlement to buy other women unchallenged. In another set of examples, Boyle looked at the way that trafficked women are placed in spaces of consumption. The paper also highlighted the way that the women in these posters often conform to Western beauty standards in order to enhance the sense of vulnerability. Boyle suggested that there was a prostitution gaze where in anti- trafficking campaign one is urged to look out for trafficked women rather than being urged to look out for those who buy sex or traffic women. This, the paper suggested can be linked to men’s discomfort of sexual scrutiny (using an example where a Swedish campaign could not find any models to be in a poster title “one in eight men buy sex”) as it is usually women and children who are objectified. Finally, the paper suggested that none of the images studied suggested survival after trafficking or looked at the link between trafficked and local women.

 Sarah Kamal ‘Keeping it “Queer”: Critical Scholarship, Pedagogies and Classrooms’

 This paper began with Kamal asking the audience to draw what they think a classroom looks like. Kamal then went on to describe ‘queer’ as a verb to spoil and put out of order, suggesting that this could be achieved by teaching against the grain. Kamal briefly discussed her research. Kamal suggested that on a micro level her work looks at the everyday struggle of resistance in Palestine, looking at graffiti as minor literature with collective value. On a macro level, Kamal suggested that her work is a commentary on what is considered as privileged as academic knowledge within International Relations and look at the effect of queer theory on this. Kamal suggested that queer critical scholarship can be used to invade space so that the classroom becomes a place where the unsayable can be said. The paper suggested that there is political power at the margins that can be used to unsettle the dominant canon. Kamal discussed some of the issues that she has found in her own research, recounting how some of her approaches such as presenting her thesis as a photo essay have met resistance. Kamal suggested that queer theory can be linked to the idea of providing an alternative space that actively cultivates discomfort and provides an interpretative space that opens up space for critical thought. Furthermore, Kamal suggested that teaching can be used as activism, as a space to question the canon and actively work against it. Kamal gave examples of this, for example using reading groups instead of hierarchical seminar and guerilla pedagogy- active political teaching. Kamal concluded by looking at the way that graffiti queers aesthetics in a way that is always political, suggesting that this can be brought into the classroom. Furthermore, the paper suggested that there is power in margins and practices of dissent and that the classroom can be seen as a place to further social justice and counter the Academic Industrial Complex.

 Contemporary Feminisms, Young Women, and Global Feminist Politics

Dr Ruth Lewis and Dr Susan Marine (Northumbria University and Merrimack College, USA), ‘Third wave’ feminism: resisting caricatures, advocating compassion

This paper, presented by Dr Ruth Lewis, emerges from a wider research project on young female students and their relationship to feminism. There has been a lot of research on young women recently, mostly in relation to their cooptation and exploitation within the contemporary neoliberal capitalist context. But little attention seems to have been paid to what young feminists are themselves doing and thinking. The paper presents a series of ‘troublings’ which the researchers have observed through their research. Specifically 1) an observation that much of feminism currently happens outside of academia (raising the question of whether this is the result of a frustration with academic feminism’s perceived inaccessibility), 2) a tendency of ‘spokeswomen’ or ’stars’ being promoted within media coverage of feminism, 3) a disjuncture between feminist theory and young women’s activism, and 4) a reliance on caricatures of ‘second wave’ and ‘third wave’ feminists, as well as the tendency among activist feminists to caricature academic feminists as existing in ivory towers and disconnected from activism on the ground. Reflecting on these observations, Dr Lewis and Dr Marine are proposing a framework for researching young women which foregrounds theoretically-informed empirical examination of young women’s activism. Such research, they suggest, should pay attention to how young feminists are using social media,recognise the diversity of views within feminism, explore the lived reality of intersectionality, pay attention to the different spaces of resistance (the successful online campaign to hold Facebook to account for supporting rape culture was cited as an example), as well as explore how young feminists do or do not engage with feminist theory. Additionally, Lewis and Marine emphasise the need for a more compassionate approach to researching young women – in particular they stress the need to acknowledge the many challenges that young women face in negotiating their lives and identities. The paper suggests that such research should approach feminism as a tapestry, with history woven into the present, and where complexity and a non-linear narrative of feminism is emphasised.

 Maddie Breeze (University of Edinburgh), ‘Critique, Inclusion and Negation: Roller Derby, ‘Real’ Sport and Hybrid Strategies for Social Change’

 Maddie Breeze presented empirical research from her doctoral project on roller derby (an ethnographic project focused on one league, which Breeze herself was involved in setting up). Roller derby is a full-contact team sport on roller blades, primarily played and led by women. Skaters take on (often humorous and/or provocative) derby names, and the image of bright colours, fishnets, miniskirts and hot pants has been closely associated with the sport. A challenge to gender norms is often inherent in skaters’ self presentation and identities. The sport is organised on a DIY model, with all organisational aspects of leagues carried out by the skaters themselves. The league which Breeze worked with is overwhelmingly white and middle class, and about two-thirds identify as straight, and one-third as lesbian and/or queer. In this paper, Breeze focused on a theme which had come increasingly to the fore during the time of her research, which was of the skaters’ increasing concern with roller derby being taken seriously as a sport. In particular, Breeze talked about the how the skaters approached seriousness and their claims to recognition within the normative sporting world. In earlier days of roller derby, a common assertion, also amongst skaters themselves, was that “roller derby is a sport for women who don’t like sport”. However, in the last few years, skaters across leagues have expressed a growing concern for serious recognition as a competitive sport. As part of this, national bodies have been set up in both the UK and the US. Breeze asks whether a request for legitimacy dilutes the subversive potential of roller derby, and finds through her research that skaters approach these claims in ways which are ambivalent, through a continued partial resistance against the demands which come with legibility and recognition. She finds that skaters ask to be taken seriously in ways which simultaneously refuse to do so according to normative expectations, but instead doing so on their own terms.

 Prof. Marcoux Faiia (Rivier University, USA), ‘Reasons College Women give for Participation or non-Participation in the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement: Is Activism Related to Self-Identification as a Feminist?’

 After visiting the Occupy protest in Chicago in October 2011, Professor Marcoux Faiia decided to initiate an exploratory study looking at young college women’s (non-) participation in the movement, and whether this related to their identification – or not – as feminists. Based on a US college campus in the North East, Prof. Faiia initially focused her research on her own campus, but then expanded her research to other campuses and online. In total she (and some of her Women’s Studies students employed as her research assistants) interviewed 80 women, asking them about their knowledge of Occupy, whether they were involved, and if so, if they faced any opposition to their involvement and also what, if anything, they had sacrificed as a result of being involved. The participants were also asked whether they identified as feminist and how they saw the role of women in the Occupy movement. Framing her research within social movement theory and culture theory, Prof. Faiia is interested in whether a sense of feminist injustice (i.e. an identification with feminism) increased and enhanced women students’ understanding of the issues raised by the Occupy movement. Her findings suggest that there is a correlation, with a higher percentage of those participants that identified as feminist also involved with Occupy. However, the majority of the women interviewed had not participated in Occupy, and this non-involvement was explained through the use of the ‘free rider’ frame, from social movement studies, which suggests that people tend to make decisions about participation in social movements based on an assessment of the personal costs, resources and risk involved. Common reasons for non-participation among the participants were expressed as concerns with being too busy with their studies, students holding conservative views and students involved in alternative lifestyles. 

Understanding and Resisting Violence against Women

Prof. Susan Hogan (University of Derby). “Frailty thy name is woman: Resisting Misogyny and Discrimination in Older Age.”

 This talk opens with the question of what is an older woman. Beyond determinist and essentialist categories, Wittgenstein argues that words gather meaning from the context in which they are used. Older women form a diverse group with cross-cutting allegiances, and this is a reason to doubt social gerontology’s base claim that all women are equal. Prof. Susan Hogan argues that visual anthropology has the power to challenge representations, and she welcomes contradictions in findings as starting points for discussion. She mentions for example a set of photography works featuring older women that has been criticised by viewers as disquieting or uncomfortable. These photographs capturing playfulness in older women were seen as displaying models in inappropriate behaviour because of the their age. Prof. Susan Hogan then presents the audience with a short film titled Look at Me and centred on art therapy, with a particular focus on the differences between what older women look like and what society dictates they should look like.

Dr. Tanya Seriser (UNSW, Australia). “Feminism, Rape and Speaking Out: Changes in Women’s Narratives of Sexual Violence.”

 Dr. Tanya Seriser starts her talk by acknowledging that the University of New South Wales, where she conducts her research, is based on land stolen from Aboriginal people. Her main theses are that the act of breaking silence and taboo around rape allows women to use speech as a form of political resistance, and that “speaking out” is in itself as feminist act. She studies 54 women’s autobiographies taking rape as the central event and looks at the evolution of the status of feminism in these works. Her findings suggest that rape survivors who wrote in the 1970s were speaking out but did not see their actions as intrinsically feminist. She also remarks on the consistent belief, from the 1970s to the 2010s, in the significance of speaking out in autobiographical accounts of rape, as all were explicitly written to aid other survivors and most titles refer to speech and/or silence. However, the narratives have shifted over the studied period, most significantly in the way they portray their relationship to feminism, as later stories find feminism increasingly problematic. Out of the 54 texts, 15 claim to be feminist works, 10 of which were published before 1989. In the 1990s, all the texts clearly distance themselves from feminism. Whereas in 1970s feminism allowed women to contextualise sexual assault, in 1999 rape women are distancing themselves from feminism, claiming that it does not allow women to get to their own understanding of their trauma. Feminism is seen as taking control away from women and generalising their experiences. Dr. Tanya Seriser takes the example of Alice Sebald’s autobiography Lucky, where the author uses social prejudice by performing race, class, and educational background to appear in court as the “all-American co-ed girl” and help put her poor black assailant in jail. This manipulation of discourse is also apparent in the Tegan Wagner rape case (2001), when the underage victim voluntarily disclosed her identity to encourage young women to speak out. The case became problematic, however, when not only feminist but also right-wing racists latch onto the story because the perpetrators happened to be a gang of Muslim Pakistani brothers. Indeed, the last chapter of her autobiography is sympathetic to the Cronulla riots, notorious racist protests against primarily Muslim Lebanese immigrants in Sydney. These more recent texts from the 2000s are not overtly opposed to feminism but do not mention it as a factor. This talk concludes on the need for more sophisticated, creative feminist discourses to look at the political effect of rape survivor narratives, and the reason why they see feminism as something outside of them and not coming from them.

 Dr. Rachel Simon-Kumar (The University of Waikato, New Zealand). “Engaging Feminist Movements in Aotearoa/New Zealand: TOAH-NNEST and the Politics of ‘Inclusion.’”

 Although Dr. Rachel Simon-Kumar is not a member of TOAH-NNEST (Te Ohaaki a Hine – National Network for Ending Sexual Violence Together, created in 2005), she is researching the organisation and its collaboration with the government and several marginalised groups. TOAH-NNEST is different from traditional models since it was created precisely for the purpose of being a strategic partner with the state in the field of sexual violence. This goes against the conventional view of grassroots movements founded in reaction to events and entering an interactive or dynamic relationship with the state. This paper outlines two major stories: the creation of TOAH-NNEST and the Taskforce on Sexual Violence. Rape Crisis centres first appeared in the late 1970s in the biggest cities of New Zealand and led the first women’s organisations. In 1984, neo-liberal economic reforms stopped funding women’s organisations, and by the late 1990s the number of agencies was halved because of the lack of funding. In 1999, Helen Clark’s coalition government took a more inclusive and collaborative approach to policymaking and created the Family Violence Taskforce. TOAH-NNEST was born as an equivalent for sexual violence, a national network of academics, practitioners and activists working together. The new organisation was denied funding at first, but a high profile rape case involving several policemen who were acquitted because the jury was not told that they were already serving sentences for rape sparked outrage from feminist groups. TOAH-NNEST was finally funded by the government and the Taskforce on Sexual Violence was established, involving TOAH-NNEST, CEOs and Family Court judges. In 2008, the economic crisis was a pretext for changes to the ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation). Under the new regulations, women victims of sexual violence must be diagnosed and satisfy a standardised medical model to get compensation. Despite its many successes, the government cut funding again in 2012 and left TOAH-NNEST struggling, thus showing its vulnerability to political changes.

 Dr. Kallia Manoussaki and Fiona Veitch (University of the West of Scotland). “Ambivalent Sexism in the West of Scotland: Attributions of Blame in Relation to Rape Myth Acceptance.

 This talk presents an interdisciplinary research project in psychology and politics. Dr. Kallia Manoussaki and Fiona Veitch are trying to establish if conservatism and inflexibility can predict rape myth acceptance and the attribution of blame to the victim. They mention the notion of ambivalent sexism, that is a combination of hostile and benevolent sexism. Benevolent sexism appears to be a predictor of rape myths acceptance (RMA) particularly in women. In the West of Scotland, they notice a sexist culture with a clear increase in rapes and a decrease in prosecution. In 1999, the newly-devolved Scottish Parliament explicitly stated gender equality as a foundational principle, yet Scotland is a patriarchal society with rigid ideas of masculinity and femininity, and worryingly high levels of acceptance of sexual violence. Although there has been higher proportions of female MSPs in Edinburgh than MPs in Westminster, these numbers are now taking a dive. Therefore, there is a need for autonomous and organised feminist political groups working alongside the Parliament. Scotland is one of the few countries giving domestic abuse a gendered definition, yet four women are raped every day in Scotland!Dr. Kallia Manoussaki and Fiona Veitch also argue that right wing authoritarianism (a cluster of co-existing attitudes such as a cognitive adherence to the status quo and a refusal to consider anything new) can predict victim-blaming and RMA. Right wind authoritarians tend to believe in a just world of retributions where victims must have done something to deserve their fate. This relates to benevolent sexism and the way it assumes that women will conform to fixed sets of rules. Rape myths attribute blame to the victim and and position men as incapable to control their sexuality. A survey of 250 students at UWS using the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI) and the Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) scale and how they predict RMA. No gender difference was found on either ASI or RWA but men scored significantly higher on RMA. Dr. Kallia Manoussaki and Fiona Veitch recommend tackling benevolent sexism in particular since it victimises women even more than straightforward hostile sexism by pervading their attitudes and expectations. They also raise the issue of needing to acknowledge the “averted gaze”, that is to address men as perpetrators so sexism is not a seen as a “women’s issue” anymore Scotland must seriously debate its myth of an egalitarian society and promote gender equality despite the neo-liberal agenda making life harder for women.


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