Bluestocking Week 2015: History, reflections, and the future

by UQU Women’s Officer, Amy Jelacic

bluestocking – /ˈbluˌstɒk ɪŋ/
1. a woman having intellectual, literary, and/or academic interests
2. a pejorative term for academically-inclined women
3. a reclaimed term of pride for academically-inclined women

Each year, students and staff at universities around Australia celebrate Bluestocking Week, a time devoted to celebrating women in higher education that takes its name from a historical term for women with an interest in intellectual pursuits. 2015’s celebrations will take place from August 10th to August 14th, with a range of excellent activities happening on campuses across the country thanks to the hard work of both student and staff unions. As women’s officer at the University of Queensland student union, and a bluestocking woman through and through, this is possibly my favourite event in the university calendar for many reasons. The rich history of women’s struggle for equality in intellectual fields is one that is dear to my heart; as much as women’s position in many areas of society has improved throughout the world, problems are still abundant and varied. Bluestocking Week is a time to look back on our history, to take stock of the present and its triumphs and hurdles, and to plan for the future of women in higher education.

History of Bluestocking Women
The Blue Stockings Society was a women’s social and educational movement founded in England in the early 1750s. It functioned as a literary discussion group, emphasising conversation and pursuit of intellectual growth over the less intellectually rigorous activities that women more commonly practiced in that era. These women pursued reading, writing, art, and more, encouraging each other and developing skills that they were not permitted to gain in formal educational institutions. In the words of Blue Stocking Society founder Elizabeth Montagu, writing in 1743, “in a woman’s education little but outward accomplishments is regarded”. Thus, she and others sought to create a place in society where women could pursue more than they were culturally expected and encouraged to.

The actual clothing item – the blue stocking itself – was a practical, informal garment that existed in contrast to the fine black stockings worn by those of the upper classes. How it came to be synonymous with “intellectual woman” is a matter of some speculation. Some attribute it to the beginnings of the Blue Stocking Society, when Elizabeth Vesey, co-founder of the movement, invited well-known intellectual Benjamin Stillingfleet to attend a meeting. He was not well-off and so she invited him to attend wearing his “blue stockings” – it didn’t matter than he didn’t have smart black stockings to wear. He became a popular fixture at these gatherings, and the term clearly stuck.

The term “bluestocking” evolved to refer generally to a woman who was interested in intellectual pursuits, who was academically-minded, who eschewed the typical trappings of a woman’s role in Western society during the 18th and 19th centuries. Of course, the women who were able to partake in bluestocking events were those who were of sufficient social and financial standing to do so without repercussion. Class was a core component of the bluestocking movement: those who began it originally were from the upper echelons of British society, and those women who perpetuated it were predominately cut from similar cloth.

Of course, expectations and norms for women gradually changed throughout the decades. Women were eventually permitted to attend tertiary education institutions. The profound stigma attached to a woman possessing intelligence and bookishness dissipated, slowly but surely. Women began to be taken more seriously as writers, academics, theorists, thinkers. The road to equality was traversed slowly but surely.

Bluestocking Week in Australia
Bluestocking Week was a regular fixture in university calendars from the late 1980s through to the last decade. It was an opportunity to campaign about women’s issues and celebrate women’s involvement in higher education, and was a popular and vibrant celebration that united university students and staff. Sadly, the voluntary student unionism legislation passed last decade was a severe blow to campus life around Australia, and Bluestocking Week was one of the casualties in this loss of culture.

2012 saw a resurgence in student activism and campus culture. Bluestocking Week was reincarnated by student and staff unions, who made in into a modern celebration for the university women of today. Each year since then, universities around the country have held Bluestocking Week celebrations to highlight the gains we’ve made for women in higher education and to draw attention to the pressing issues still facing us.

On being a bluestocking woman
Academically-inclined women of the 21st century are fortunate to be free from much of the extreme societal disapproval experienced by bluestockings throughout history. While it’s still considered pretty uncool to be a nerd, society does generally admire and venerate those who pursue academic excellent, those who show themselves to be accomplished and talented in intellectual pursuits, those who express themselves with eloquence and intelligence. I was fortunate to be raised by parents who encouraged me wholeheartedly to read and write and expand my mind. My family always had a wide range of interesting books around the house, and a trip to the library was never too much trouble. My successes at school were praised (but never to excess!). University was an inevitable dot on the horizon, and I was so very excited to get there.

After changing degrees a few times (yes, I was one of those people), I eventually settled on the field which I think I always secretly knew I’d pursue: political science. The little glimpses of political science that I received in modern history and English classes were tantalising, and I have a vivid memory of being about fourteen years old and telling a stranger that I wanted to be a political scientist when I grew up. While I’m not sure how well I knew what exactly that entailed at that point in life, young Amy certainly showed remarkable prescience. I am now privileged to be studying an honours year in political science at one of the finest institutions in Australia, within a great school, with an excellent supervisor, surrounded by talented peers – men and women in almost equal numbers. Despite this fortunate position, I admit to being plagued by many of the same issues that affected bluestocking women historically (albeit to a much, much less degree!). I wonder if men are intimidated by intelligent and forthright women, and then promptly berate myself for even caring what men might be intimidated by. I worry if I seem too assertive or if I come across as a know-it-all. I worry that no matter how much I apply myself to becoming truly knowledgeable in my field of study, I’ll never be taken seriously as a young woman, or, indeed, as an older woman.

As I consider my future path in academia, I am made nervous by the warnings I get from university staff about life in academia. The universal challenges of an academic career are compounded by the effects of sexism on women, which is made clear by anecdotal and statistical evidence. While my undergrad experience in an arts degree was, in my experience, relatively free from any ill treatment due to my gender, this changes as one ascends in the world of academia, and the high dropout rates of women early career researchers in many fields is testament to this. By many accounts, it is still a very blokey, unforgiving place. Frankly, I relish the challenge of succeeding in an environment that I am not predisposed to thrive in, but my thoughts inevitably turn to those who are at a much greater disadvantage in academia than I am and who face this world with fewer tools at their disposal than I have.

Bluestocking women today
In modern times, women undergraduate university students outnumber men in many areas. Gender disparity in various fields of study reflect the gendered nature of work – nursing, speech pathology, and social sciences have many more women than men, while various engineering disciplines, many science fields, and information technology/software engineering/computer science are dominated by men. Surprisingly, we now see more women than men in undergraduate law, and other historically male-dominated fields are showing similar trends in undergraduate gender divides.

It it important to celebrate the advances we’ve made, and to acknowledge the work we’ve still to do. People face many hurdles in accessing tertiary education in Australia – aspects of Australians’ lives including gender, class, race, and more contribute to various social and economic issues that can stop those who wish to get a tertiary education from attending, and present unique difficulties to those who do make it to uni. The University of Queensland has been like a second home to me for many years, and though I find much to love about my university I am also keenly aware of its shortcomings. Being able to acknowledge them is one thing, but tackling them seems fairly insurmountable.

Women who seek to become well-educated and who strive for academic excellence need to be supported, encouraged, nurtured, and shown that it is very much possible for them to succeed and thrive in university and then wherever their post-uni life takes them. Knowing the history of women’s struggle to assert themselves in academia has inspired me to keep moving towards my goals, to not be ashamed of my passion for learning, to be the one to throw myself at the glass ceiling and do my utmost to widen the cracks made by the women who have gone before me.


For more information about Bluestocking Week 2015 at the University of Queensland, visit the UQU website and check out the event on Facebook11143416_407331469467970_1894964076139818039_n

“Are Women Invisible?” Clementine Ford Seminar – Photos and Live Recording


The UQ Women’s Collective is pleased to announce the complete success of our event UQWC presents: Clementine Ford. Author, social commentator, and feminist Clementine Ford spoke on the topic of women and girls in the media at UQ on Friday, October 3rd to a full room of excited and engaged feminists. Ford is indeed an eloquent, sassy, and vital voice in modern-day feminism, unlike the world according to Andrew Bolt, who says she’s ‘just some feminist with bared tattoos’. Here are some great photos by UQWC member and photographer Talia Enright, with Clementine and the event’s main organiser and host, Amy Jelacic:

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We also have a recording of Clementine’s talk. Due to technical difficulties, the first five or so minutes of Clementine’s great speech has been cut off. But please enjoy the rest of her hour long talk and Q&A session as an audio recording here!

Thanks once again to all the UQWC members and the UQ Union who helped to make the day possible. You can find more photos of the day at our UQWC facebook page!


Reclaim The Night 2013 recap

Trigger warning as this piece references r*, sexual assault and victim blaming.

This year’s Reclaim The Night (RTN) was an inspiring night of rallying, marching and local talent. Last friday night, women-identifying people came together at Queen’s Park to hear speakers turn the tables on victim blaming with tips like “How Not To Rape – men, carry whistles to alert others you’re going to rape! And remember to stay in packs!”.

Hear Kara de Groot explain more about this year’s RTN on

Despite the police weirdly making everyone hurry up through the march (apparently they only had a half an hour window to escort the march…), and a few randoms who decided to walk through the rally, the night was full of both celebration of being women who will not stand for violence in our society and respect and remembrance of those we have lost to sexual violence. We chanted “Blame the system, not the victim”, “Not the Church, Not the State, Let Women Decide Their Fate” and “No means no, it doesn’t mean maybe, don’t touch me I’m not your baby!” down the streets of the CBD to applause from onlookers and touchingly, male allies who welcomed us back to Queen’s Park.  Speakers included those from the RTN Collective, Senator Claire Moore and the UQWC’s own Madeline Price, who shared the following evocative beat poem:

I should not fear
four little words I repeat
backed by blasting dubstep beat
that echoes from the club
that I just left

I should not fear
walking our shared streets
the police on the beat
there to protect me
from your drunken hands
and broken minds

I should not fear
our public places
our private spaces
our university campuses
our schools
our homes
and the willingness of the public
to attribute blame

I should not fear
persecution for walking at night
objectification if my skirts too tight
this slut-shaming
that I was born into

I should not fear
that I am seen as a piece of meat
rather than the person within.

A big shout out goes to the Brisbane RTN Collective, who made this year’s rally and march a smash success. The t-shirts and badges made were amazingly designed and the night was well organised.

The UQ Women’s Collective led the march – a spontaneous decision made because we had the largest banner! Below are a few of my photos of the night plus a photo of the t-shirts from the RTN Collective facebook page (please don’t use these pictures without my permission or credit – email first.

If you’d like to get involved with next year’s Brisbane Reclaim The Night, you can find out more info here.

~ Emma Di Bernardo

Thanks to Madeline Price and Kara de Groot for sharing their work for this post.

We Are The Media: Reflecting on the Flawed Brilliance of Amanda Palmer

By Samantha Kelly
As seen as Wom*news #11: Women in Public



Normally when I look back at my teenage self, I am both amused and embarrassed at how heavily I idolised particular musicians. Don’t get me wrong; I think a lot of artists have brilliant perspectives on politics, religion and, well… art.


But to hang on their every word…

To form crushes through a computer screen…

To turn giddish or speechless at a signing booth…


These things are childish. And unhealthy.




I’d like to think I have grown up. In most cases, I can safely say that I have stopped acting like a screaming fan-girl in the presence of my favourite artists.


But then… I went to watch Amanda Palmer play live at The Tivoli.


The gig was incredible. It had all of the theatrics, beauty and attitude I’d hoped for. But it also made me think hard about the way societies are conditioned to judge women in the public realm. And more specifically, how I myself judge musicians.


‘Do it With a Rockstar’ kicked off the set. Amanda jumped into the crowd and joined the mosh-pit. As people pulled and pushed one another around to get up-close, she grabbed the lapels of passionate fans, one after another, singing right into their faces. When she did this to me, I mouthed the words in time but no sound came out.


I was amazed by the very fact that someone whose words I regularly absorbed through a pair of headphones was right there, in amongst the crowd.


This was the person who inspired so many aspects of my feminist identity.


Whose music had at times made me laugh and cry simultaneously.


I’d loved Dresden Dolls since I was twelve. And as I developed an interest in Gender issues, I began to really admire Amanda Palmer, for her lyrics, blogs and interviews.


She openly wrote about masturbation, polyamory and abortion. She took pride in her body hair and her sexual orientation. Without realising, I’d labelled her as the ‘perfect’ feminist.


And so naturally, I was conflicted when groups of feminists began to raise criticisms about this woman.


Bloggers began to point out that some of the politically incorrect comments she’d made, including those which could be classified as ableist, transphobic and racist. As I further

investigated the events that had stirred controversy, I felt that these criticisms were well-justified. And I couldn’t just dismiss this.

This forced me to accept the fact that Amanda Palmer is not perfect.

But upon accepting this, I was able to appreciate her art and view her as a human being. To be at peace with the idea of holding high regard for a person, while also taking issue with some of their choices.

And this is the difference between the way I view artists now and the celebrity-worship mentality I used to have.


Something Amanda Palmer does particularly well is drawing her listeners’ attention to the gender biases in music criticism. The live track ‘Dear Daily Mail’ is by far my favourite thing on the internet this year.

It was written in response to a review of one of her performances in the UK. The review placed an extensive amount of focus on the fact that her breasts had ‘escaped’ her bra, rather than her actual music or performance. Upon introducing the song, she commented, “The funniest thing about this is that it happens all the time… but… I don’t think they knew.”

In the lyrics, she points out that she was “doing a number of things on that stage up to and including singing songs. But you chose to ignore that and instead you published a feature review of my boobs.”

She then calls the Daily Mail ‘sad’ for it’s “focus on debasing women’s appearance.” She highlights the double-standards, screaming “I’m tired of these ‘baby-bumps’, ‘vag-flashes’, ‘muffin-tops’… where are the news-worthy cocks?”.

The song ends brilliantly: ‘When Iggy or Jagger or Bowie go shirtless the news rarely causes a ripple. Blah blah blah feminist, blah blah blah gender-shit. Blah-blah-blah, oh my god- nipple.’

I interpret these last lines as a three-way satirical statement, poking fun at dominant reactions to feminism and the ridiculously large stigma attached to breasts, while also embodying Palmer’s characteristic references to the conventions of song writing.


I watched this leading up to the concert and felt it overshadow the critical stance I had previously developed.

The concert itself was without exaggeration one of the best performance I had attended in years. It was full of humour, audience interaction, and a mixture of songs covering personal and political issues.

Both opening acts were chosen by Amanda herself, who appeared at the beginning of the show to introduce them. She returned again as a dancer during the last track of the first band, a German comedy duo called ‘Die Roten Punkte’.

It is clear to me that dominant ideologies impact on critical responses to women in the music industry such as Amanda Palmer. But in a similar way, I admit that my adoration for Amanda Palmer’s music affects my own ability to make objective judgments about her as a feminist.

Nonetheless, it has also occurred to me that that numerous artists who don’t express any political opinions remain unscathed by these criticisms. It is only once we begin to view someone as a spokesperson for a particular cause that we expect flawlessneess.

And at the end of the day, Amanda Palmer is an artist. Not a politician or an anthropologist.

I still believe artists are responsible for what they say and how it affects people. And Amanda Palmer has said some offensive things; but she has also written some amazing music and sparked some very critical discussions.


Though Amanda Palmer did not perform ‘Dear Daily Mail’ in Brisbane, she did play ‘Gaga, Palmer, Madonna.’ This track explores how female pop-musicians have continued to face challenges throughout several decades. It also raises questions about how we define art.

As the lead Dresden Doll and as a solo-artist, Amanda Palmer has achieved a lot. And while it is healthy to remain critical about public figures, it is also important to question the standards against which we are evaluating women in art.

At the end of the day, Amanda Palmer is not the sole epitome of feminist progression. Nor is she the leading cause of widespread misogyny.

Amanda Palmer is an artist, a woman and a human being.

~ Samantha Kelly

Destroy The Joint: A Review

By Molly Eliza

Personally, I was a huge fan of Julia Gillard, and I thought the media and the general public were unfair and at times sexist towards her. Prominent shock-jocks such as Alan Jones would dedicate all their airspace to attacking her and misogyny was rife. One afternoon, as things were really bubbling to the surface, Jones infamously claimed that female leaders are “destroying the joint”. Jane Caro then started the twitter hashtag #destroythejoint which went viral within a matter of hours. From this was born a large online collective action movement, and eventually a collection of essays curated by Jane Caro was published.

Destroy the Joint is well worth reading, especially as a fledgling feminist. Although most of it is very Australia-specific there are some great essays that represent a variety of viewpoints. In the age of the web, tumblr and blogging it is good to have a breath of fresh, local air. Lily Edelstein’s discussion of her experiences as a teenage girl is especially poignant; Rookie magazine gets a name-check along with prolific teen girl blogger Sarah Grrrlfever, whose manifesto has thousands of notes on Tumblr. Continue reading

Makeup Free Me: Interview with founder, Merissa Mathew

MFM 2013 Flyer_150x100Makeup Free Me is an initiative started by Merissa Mathew in conjunction with the Butterfly Foundation asking young people, particularly young women, to go without make up to see how beautiful they can be in other ways. We spoke to Merissa about this great cause, where all donations are given to the Butterfly Foundation which supports those dealing with eating disorders and negative body image issues. She gave us some great words of wisdom to share!

What is the Makeup Free Me challenge and what do you hope to achieve through this initiative? 

On Friday 30th August we are encouraging women all over Australia to take on the challenge of going without makeup for one day. By asking women to go makeup free for a mere 24 hours, we’re showing the world that beauty is more than just skin deep. At the same time we’re raising vital funds to support the Butterfly Foundation. The Butterfly Foundation provides support for Australians who suffer from eating disorders and negative body image issues and their carers.

What inspired you to start this movement?

There’s a saying ‘be careful what you wish for’. In my case it was ‘be careful what you pray for’ because I said a desperate prayer one day asking for direction in my life and it was at that moment that this idea came about. 

Do you ever go without makeup?

Prior to starting this campaign I never left the house without makeup on. In fact, when the campaign idea first came to mind I started laughing out loud but I released later that my own insecurities was what made me perfect for this venture. Since then I have gone out a few times without makeup on and its refreshing, freeing and scary all at the same time. I’m only now learning how to love me, the natural me. 

Any tips on embracing who you are and affirmations we can all try and remember for those times when we feel not so great?

This is a great question. Positive self talk has always helped me. Sometimes speaking aloud all the great things about yourself or even writing them down can really boost your confidence. It may sound like a bizarre thing to do but this has honestly helped me in many aspects of my life, not just in relation to body image.

Do you have any personal stories to share around body image?

I believe I’m like many women out there, I have good days and bad. Sometimes I feel great about how I look and other times I feel quite awful and the reality is that I don’t actually look any different. I know I personally place too much emphasis on the way I look and somehow I connect it with my self-worth. So in essence I’m far from having it all together and I’m very much on a journey in discovering my value in who I am rather than what I look like.

Where do you see this campaign in a few years to come?

Negative body image is not just an issue in Australia. In fact, only 4% of women globally consider themselves beautiful. In a few years to come we hope to expand to other countries so that we can empower women across the world to develop and nurture positive body image.

994564_10201785306298686_30325048_nThe UQWC is hosting a MUFM event this coming Friday at 10am on the Grassy Knoll on UQ St Lucia campus. We’ll be taking photos of you – you’re encouraged to not where any make up, but if you do that’s okay! We’ll get you to hold up a sign where you’ve written one thing you find beautiful about you that isn’t related to your appearance. Maybe it’s the way you support a friend in need, the way you stand up for yourself in stressful situations, or maybe the way you love your job or are doing the best you can in your studies. We’ll post the pics on our tumblr for your to see!

Student Services will be hosting a Mindfulness workshop from 10-10.30am as well, so come along!

You can donate to the Butterfly Foundation through the UQWC support page too :)

A special shout out to Emily, Lotte and Emma who have all been a big help in organising our event!

Save Gender Studies: The Video (Please Share!)

Save Gender Studies, The Video — Brought to you by the Women’s Collective of the University of Queensland. 

The University of Queensland’s executive Arts dean, Fred D’Agostino, announced this year that as of 2014 Gender Studies would no longer be offered as a choice of major for undergraduate students.

Following this, Mr D’Agostino was quoted in The Australian newspaper as saying he “was not aware” of any complaints from undergraduate students — this in spite of the vocal ‘Save Gender Studies’ student collective on campus, that held it’s first meeting in March and a large protest rally in April.

But maybe Mr D’Agostino still hasn’t got the message… Maybe it’s time you were in on this too. Because when gender studies is under attack, there’s only one thing to do — speak out and fight back!

Please share this video to let UQ know the Gender Studies major is wanted and needed.

Written by Laura Howden.

Joan Smith’s ‘The Public Woman’

A review by Lotte Scheel


I’m sure I’d be preaching to the converted if my only comment is that feminism is still very much needed. In a sense, Joan Smith is also preaching to the converted. When I started reading her most recent work, The Public Woman (2013), I had long since been branded as the raging feminist in most of my social circles. I didn’t expect anything she wrote to change my opinion on anything: on the contrary, I expected the entire book to consolidate my already existing views. And in a way, yes, it did. It confirmed what I already knew: that society treats women like shit, despite maintaining an illusion that women are equal.

I read this book with an overwhelming sense of déjà-vu. The points Smith makes and the case studies she uses echo a truth that I, as a woman, am eternally confronted with. Smith picks up on a myriad of issues, using case studies and statistics to make her point. She discusses the way women are treated by society, the way they are turned into a commodity, the barriers they face in politics, in the public sphere, social circles and in the home. The whole book carries a trigger warning for general misogyny and violence against women, but the chapters describing in-depth about torture and murder of women (Possession and The Witches of Perugia) carry massive trigger warnings – I managed to slowly work through Possession, but I started and could not finish The Witches of Perugia, because it was just too distressing, due to extremely high levels of sexual and physical violence.

She explains the problem is that our patriarchal society trains both men and women to accept and in some cases even relish a perverse simultaneous infantilising and hypersexualisation of women, using the glamour model Jordan and the description of a particular strip club as examples.

The title of her chapter on women in politics, Calm Down, Dear, actual words spoken by the current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to a female Labour politician, perfectly embody the blatant condescension and disdain most male politicians have for women. While this chapter deals with British politics, one could easily switch David Cameron’s name for Tony Abbott’s.

While I said previously that in a way this book confirmed my already existing views, Smith actually managed to change my mind on an issue I had been sure of my stance on. It was in the chapter Buying Power, which discusses sex work and the shocking commonplace of child prostitution in supposedly developed countries.  I already knew that sex workers had very dangerous working conditions, and because of this, I was convinced that legalisation of prostitution was a good attempt at lessening the danger for women in the industry. However, Smith explains that where prostitution has been legalised, both legal and illegal brothels multiply (for example, when Victoria, Australia, legalised brothels, illegal brothels ended up outnumbering legal ones four to one).  I was also horrified to learn that in areas where prostitution has been legalised, the number of trafficked women to the area skyrockets, and the number of underage girls who are groomed for prostitution increases. Since finding out that while it provides security to some sex workers, the legalisation of prostitution actually increases the number of women who are exploited and trafficked, I have changed my stance on the issue and support the Swedish model, where pimps and those who buy sex are punished while women who are selling sex are not and are provided with safe exit strategies.

While I was impressed with the majority of Smith’s book, I did have a problem with Queen Wag, her chapter on Kate Middleton. Here Smith argues that Middleton has always played a traditionally feminine role, first literally being a lady in waiting for her prince, and then taking on the role of princess, dutifully becoming pregnant with the future monarch soon after her wedding. Smith points out that while the princes would serve in the armed forces, Middleton “stuck to the most traditional of female roles, visiting projects to do with children” (p92). While I agree that limiting women to traditional roles is problematic, and there is no doubt that the royal family’s traditions are certainly patriarchal, it seems that Smith is almost attacking Middleton herself for her adoption of these roles. On the last page of this chapter, Smith writes that Middleton has “done little since leaving university except play a supporting role to her boyfriend, marry him with great pomp and ceremony and get pregnant for the first time…unambitious, uncontroversial and bland, Kate Middleton was Queen Wag in everything but name.” This seems inappropriate considering that the main sources we have on Middleton’s life are tabloid newspapers, which offer a sensationalistic representation of everything:  there are many aspects of Middleton’s life of which we are not aware. And regardless, while I am aware it can be frustrating to watch women accept traditional societal gender roles, it is more beneficial to critique the system that constrains women, than to condemn the women who are trapped in its snares.

As Smith concludes her book with the slogan Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, I conclude with my wholehearted agreement with the dominant message of the book. Women’s rights are human rights, and as the book has demonstrated, they are sorely lacking.  Patriarchy is entrenched in our society, and it is up to the younger generation to grow up and enter the world with a new attitude. The Public Woman on the whole gives a wonderful overview of the state of women in the world today, and as such it deserves a place on mandatory reading lists for Year Twelve English in all schools, to educate young men and women: to make them cognisant of the terrible state of women’s rights – human rights, and gift them with an awareness that will ready them to make the world a better place.

~ Lotte Scheel

Gender $tudies – Can We Afford the Cost?

By Laura Howden

*Trigger Warnings: this article contains a brief mention of rape and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised if sensitive to content of this nature.*

Two undergraduate students at the April 18 rally on UQ’s St Lucia campus, preparing to lead the march. (Photo captured by Laura Howden.)

Two undergraduate students at the April 18 rally on UQ’s St Lucia campus, preparing to lead the march. (Photo captured by Laura Howden.)

“When Gender Studies is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” The chant ripples through the crowd as we march across the St Lucia campus of The University of Queensland (UQ); a formidable assembly of staff and students armed with megaphones, banners and copies of an online petition that amassed some 836 signatures of support. Our final destination is the UQ senate meeting, at which representatives from UQ’s Gender Studies Teaching Committee hope to present evidence against the institution’s decision to abolish the major. Close to a dozen police officers await our arrival at the foot of the building. Requests to allow a delegation from our ranks to enter the senate are refused but, at the last, they allow a copy of the petition and two other documents to be handed through the line of officers and tabled by the board. When we finally disperse the protestors’ anger and frustration is palpable, and it is clear that this issue is a long way away from reaching any kind of resolution.

The April 18 rally was organised in response to an announcement by the university’s Executive Arts Dean, Fred D’Agostino, that as of 2014 Gender Studies would no longer be offered as a choice of major for undergraduate students (with existing students given the option to continue on until 2018). One week prior to the protest event, Mr D’Agostino was quoted in The Australian newspaper as saying he “was not aware” of any complaints from undergraduate students – this in spite of the vocal ‘Save Gender Studies’ student collective on campus, which held its first meeting of the year on March 11.

But it has not just been local students standing up and speaking out against the cuts. Director of Gender Studies at Melbourne University, Professor Jeanette Hoorn, spoke both at the rally and at an earlier forum alongside members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). She noted in each of her talks that UQ would now be the only GO8 university in Australia not to offer a gender or women’s studies program, and urged UQ administrators to recognise its significance beyond the classroom. “I believe you cannot do any gender studies in Iran these days,” Professor Hoorn said at the rally. “It’s a shame you can’t do much in Queensland either.”

Continue reading

Joan Smith’s ‘Misogynies’: Twenty-Four Years On

Review by Joanna Horton
To be featured in the upcoming “Cliterature” issue of Wom*news!

UntitledA feminist classic, Misogynies was first released in 1989 and created controversy with its cutting analyses of everyday woman-hating sentiments and behaviours. In 2013, it has been re-released by The Westbourne Press in conjunction with Joan Smith’s newest book, The Public Woman.

Let me start by saying straight up that I LOVE the idea of a book that sets out to explore and prove the deep-seated societal hatred towards women that increasingly shows up the in the cracks of modern ‘equality’. While I’m being honest, I will also tell you that I am a bit tired of hearing things like equal pay or affirmative action being touted as self-contained ‘feminist issues’. Are these problems important? Yes. Are they definitive? No. Rather, they’re symptomatic of a wider problem, and fit into a wider system. I call this system patriarchy, but Smith seeks to explore it from the angle of misogyny – or, in a nod to Roland Barthes, misogynies. The scope is too broad for one book, and so Smith chooses examples from current events, history, literature, and pop culture to demonstrate how anti-woman sentiments are surviving – nay, thriving – even in ostensibly ‘equal’ societies.

All Smith’s chapters take the same theme – that is, misogyny – read through different lenses. The everyday language and subject matter make it easy reading, and Smith nails the idiom that every English Literature student will be familiar with: complex ideas, simple language. Her analysis is sound and easy to follow, making Misogynies ideal both as a ‘starting-out’ feminist text and as a refresher for those of us who no longer need convincing. (One chapter, instantly familiar to most women, simply takes the form of a transcribed conversation between a man, a woman, and a plumber engaged to do work on their house.)

By exploring the nuances of misogyny, Smith also touches on several intersecting themes. The most salient of these is class (which I believe contemporary feminism doesn’t explore nearly enough – but that’s a rant for another day), examined through the iconic figure of Margaret Thatcher. This was particularly interesting to read in the aftermath of Thatcher’s death, during which countless conservatives named her as a glass-ceiling shatterer and elected to ignore the brutality she exercised against Britain’s working class, the worst of which was borne (as it always is) by women. Cuttingly, Smith exposes the hypocrisy behind Thatcher’s insistence that women can ‘have it all’, and reveals the Iron Lady as anything but a feminist icon.

In other chapters, however, this intersectionality falters. Examinations of misogyny and race, or misogyny and sexuality, are sadly absent. When recounting the experience of a Page Three woman mobbed by fans at a promotional event, Smith veers away from the rich analysis that seems obvious. Rather than thoughtfully and critically exploring how Page Three women’s bodies are exploited to line the pockets of so many men – from Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Sun newspaper where Page Three women appear, right down to the women’s mostly-male managerial teams – Smith actually blames the women themselves for unwanted (and sometimes dangerous) attention from male fans, claiming that they are extending a sexual invitation that they have no intention of fulfilling. Despite explicitly noting that the women in question usually embark on Page Three-esque careers due to financial hardship, Smith hopes that the fans who mobbed Page Three woman Samantha Fox at her event got their money back. (The same theme is picked up again in a chapter on Marilyn Monroe, where Smith’s claim that “no woman squeezes herself into a tight dress, appears on stage before thousands of soldiers who have been isolated from female company for months, and presents them with a suggestive song without knowing exactly what she’s doing” smacks strongly of victim-blaming rhetoric warning women to watch their behaviour.)

These bizarre sentiments are doubly strange considering that Smith spends the second chapter of Misogynies reminding us that a woman can engage in whatever behaviour she likes and still say ‘no’ at the end of the night. Does this statement only stand true for some women? Does posing naked in a newspaper remove your right not to be physically assaulted by fans? Are some women in fact asking for it? Smith’s sudden turns of victim-blaming appear as failures of analysis – she blames women for fulfilling roles (Page Three ‘girl’, seductive femme fatale) that society has set out for them. She hopes the fans get their money back; I hope the Page Three women do.

This conclusion, perhaps, is one effect of reading Misogynies twenty-four years after its release, during which time continuous debate has brought up new questions and perspectives for feminism. However, another effect of this retrospective reading is the haunting sense that the more things change, the more they stay the same. “Three or four times a year,” Smith writes, “we in Britain go through a ritual known as Outcry Over Judge’s Remarks In Rape Case”. These days, as the Internet allows for information to be shared further and faster than ever, this ritual takes place more like three or four times a month. (At the time of writing, I can think of at least one news story along these lines that occurred in the past week.) The sentiments of the judges quoted by Smith could easily have been expressed today. This, I think, is one reason why it’s so crucially important to read and re-read classic feminist texts – the realization that some things don’t change points to the conclusion that they are culturally ingrained; always present, in one form or another, in a culture that is essentially misogynistic. This, after all, is Smith’s ultimate argument.

One final note: to paraphrase Lenin, what is to be done? Smith delivers a stern critique of misogynistic culture, but offers little in the way of suggested remedies. Finishing the book, I wished that she’d included just one final chapter on the power (and the complex difficulties) of women organizing together against misogynies. Leaving this out amounts not only to a lack of ‘solution’, but it also has the unfortunate effect of casting women only as the victims of misogyny, rather than three-dimensional people who have the ability to fight back. Perhaps, with much of the groundwork laid by feminist forerunners such as Smith, this is the task for today’s feminism.

~ Joanna Horton

Wom*news was asked to review Joan Smith’s new release books ‘Misogynies’ and ‘The Public Woman’ by her publishing house’s distributor, Inbooks. You’ll also be able to read Lotte’s review of ‘The Public Woman’ in Issue #10 Wom*news: Cliterature. If you’d like us to review your feministy book, please email us at