UQWC’s Reply to ‘Fabulous Feminism’ in Semper Floreat

In this year’s first issue of the UQU student magazine, Semper Floreat, there was an article published titled “Fabulous Feminism” by Vivienne Hartwig. It was far from fabulous. The UQ Women’s Collective, concerned with the warped view of feminism Vivienne presented, wrote a reply. We’ve submitted this reply to the Semper Editors in the hopes of it being published in issue two of Semper. This seems unlikely, but not that this matters; we’ll be publishing our reply in the upcoming issue of our magazine, Wom*news, and it will stay here so everyone can share it with their friends.

Vivienne’s article is first, with our reply below it.

Fabulous Feminism by Vivienne Hartwig:

Fabulous Feminism

The UQ Women’s Collective’s Reply:

UQWC Reply to Fabulous Feminism

Thanks to Emma, Lorelei, Rosie, Julia for writing our reply, and to Emily for designing it in feminist purple! And thanks to you for sharing this around!



An Open Letter to the University of Queensland and the Union

31st August 2012

To whom it may concern,

This letter is written on behalf of the members of the University of Queensland Women’s Collective (UQWC) to express their significant concern regarding the mistreatment and disrespect towards our group by the current student union (UQU) and its female Gender and Sexuality Vice President.

The UQ Women’s Collective has been an integral source of support, representation and activism for female-identifying people at the University of Queensland since the mid 1970s. The Collective has acted, and continues to act, as a feminist activist group promoting women’s rights and raising awareness of a broad range of issues surrounding gender inequality, as well as providing a space for women’s voices to be heard, shared and valued as part of a large, supportive community. In the past two years alone, the UQWC has raised money for women’s charities, participated in feminist events such as Reclaim The Night, hosted a successful Diversity Week event, and established our own bi-monthly magazine, Wom*news. The UQWC has a rich history and an active, vibrant presence on campus at present.

Unfortunately, the past two years have seen an increasing level of disrespect, discredit and purposeful ignorance towards the UQWC by the UQU and its incumbent office-bearers, particularly by its Gender and Sexuality VP. Instead of recognising an active and long-standing women’s group, UQU has de-affiliated us and refused any involvement with the UQWC, cutting off access to resources and union support. Their primary mechanism for this has been the Women’s Rights Action Group (WRAG), a more recent UQU-established group that seems to exist in name only.

The Women’s Rights Action Group has been largely inactive in terms of supporting women on campus. Several UQWC members are on the WRAG mailing list, but have never received any news about upcoming events, or notifications of meeting, required to be called regularly under the UQU’s constitution. We have emailed the female VP Gender and Sexuality, Ms Ashleigh Ross, numerous times, asking when regular meeting times are, enquiring when the next meeting will be, or requesting to join the WRAG mailing list. We have also sent emails regarding women’s issues on campus, campaigns and gaining support for events from the union. We have not received replies to any of these enquiries. Ms Ross has not been involved with, or supported, UQWC campaigns or events in any way, to our great disappointment. She has also failed to turn up to any UQWC meetings (which are publicised on our Facebook group and on the chalkboard in the women’s room on campus) apart from one in November 2011. This suggests to us  that WRAG is either inactive in supporting women on campus on a realised, day-to-day basis, or that the VP Gender and Sexuality is not making her efforts towards women’s welfare and rights accessible to those who need them or are interested.

Neither of these are satisfactory for women’s representation and welfare on campus. While WRAG continues to ignore and disrespect the UQWC, they are inadvertently ignoring and disrespecting other women on campus who need the type of community, support and action that only the UQWC offers at this time. UQU and Ms Ross’ refusal to engage with an active, long-standing group does not support women on campus, and presenting an inactive group that does not meet and does not organise or support women as the only choice for involvement to the university’s students is negligent, disrespectful and inadequate. This is potentially harmful to women on campus, as they are unable access the support that they seek.

This mistreatment and ignorance towards the UQWC is best exemplified in the case of this year’s Market Day in Semester One. After correspondence with Ms Ross, initiated by members of the UQWC, we had secured a spot at the WRAG Market Day stall. Ms Ross had assured us we would be allowed to use a part of the stall to promote the UQWC and have a sign-up sheet to collect details of new students who wished to join. This arrangement was confirmed in emails sent between UQWC members and Ms Ross. On the day, Ms Ross refused to let the UQWC use any part of the WRAG stall as previously arranged and we were not even allowed to leave our sign-up sheet for interested women to use. The UQWC members involved were treated with contempt, and when they attempted to hand out materials and a sign-up sheet next to the stall, were threatened with security. This incident clearly shows how the UQU is using the inactive WRAG to deny an active and vibrant women’s group access to resources, representation and recognition.

The UQ Women’s Collective resists the idea of disbanding and moving our membership to the UQU-sanctioned WRAG, because doing so would disrespect the significant history and achievements that past members have made for women at UQ. Furthermore, it has been made clear to us that UQU does not wish to affiliate with us or support us, despite having done so for most of UQU’s history. We believe that joining WRAG would make no difference to women’s rights on campus, seeing as WRAG has been inactive over the past two years. Regardless of affiliation, we see no reason for the current UQU treating us in a sexist, disrespectful and female-phobic manner.

We hope this letter creates change for the women of UQ, and that the UQWC can obtain the support, representation and respect it deserves from the UQ Union, and in particular from the female VP Gender and Sexuality, whose role it is to provide exactly that.

In solidarity,
Johanna Qualmann, Emma Di Bernardo, Charlotte Audley-Coote and Joanna Horton
On behalf of the UQ Women’s Collective

“Dear Premier Newman: Stop Defunding Sisters Inside” from UQWC + QUTWC

The following is a joint effort from the UQ Women’s Collective and QUT Women’s Collective: a letter we posted today asking Premier Campbell Newman to address the reasons why Sisters Inside Inc. was defunded, and to reconsider the defunding of this amazing service to women. It was mailed both to the Premier’s office and his Ashgrove electoral office. We’ll keep you updated as to his reply.

If you would like to show your support for Sisters Inside, you can sign this petition!

Dear Premier Campbell Newman,

This letter is written on behalf of the members of both the University of Queensland Women’s Collective and the Queensland University of Technology’s Women’s Collective to express their significant concern regarding the state government’s recent decision to withdraw funding for the service, Sisters Inside Inc. Our collectives implore the government to reconsider this withdrawal for three reasons.

Firstly, the reasons given for withdrawal of funds are not empirically credible. The Collectives’ research suggests that the government funds saved by the work of Sisters Inside greatly exceeds the cost required to enable that work. Secondly, the organisation provides crucial services directly contributing to the prevention of female crime and incarceration, and consequently, the wellbeing of women, their families and society at large. Finally, even if defunding was not likely to drastically impair these efforts, the symbolic nature of this withdrawal is psychologically damaging, socially unacceptable and ideologically invalid. The Women’s Collectives of both the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology therefore urge the LNP not to undermine an organisation whose work is vital if the government is to fulfill its primary role – to uphold the welfare of the people of Queensland.

The services provided by Sisters Inside are crucial to the maintenance and advancement of the welfare of women in prison. It not only provides counselling and support to help them overcome underlying issues and re-enter society after their sentence is served, but advocates fair treatment and fundamental rights whilst in gaol. Sisters Inside is an organisation that is there for women – mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, friends like yours or mine – when no one else will be. It directly addresses the difficulties women have faced – often abuse and addiction – and provides them with the tools necessary to overcome these difficulties so they might lead happier lives and better contribute to society. Sisters Inside has been an outstandingly successful service that has greatly supported a vulnerable and otherwise disregarded demographic, and thereby has benefited the Queensland community at large. This benefit has not only been felt sociologically, but also economically.

It is clear to us that defunding Sisters Inside will cost the government money in the long run, rendering it a purposeless and overwhelmingly damaging act. As a party that is intent on cutting costs to the Queensland electorate, it is surprising that the LNP has chosen to collapse an organisation which saves government money. It costs taxpayers $70,000 to keep one woman in prison for one year. Sisters Inside has directly contributed to the prevention of the incarceration of countless women – saving the government hundreds of thousands of dollars. Further, the services and support provided by the organisation help women avoid criminal behavior once out of prison, thereby preventing further gaol sentences and decreasing government expenditure even more. Defunding Sisters Inside will not only inhibit these efforts, but cease them altogether. No other organisation provides these services, and they cannot be provided without the support of the government. The government’s decision is therefore counter-productive. Without Sisters Inside, the Queensland Government, and furthermore its taxpayers, will pay more money for a worse outcome.

As you must be aware, the UQ and QUT Women’s Collectives are not alone in voicing opposition to this decision. There is currently a petition by Get Up! with 16,132 signatures as of August 22 – and doubtless, more will have signed since we have sent this letter. The goal is to reach 20,000 – that will be 20,000 individuals who do not want to see this invaluable service lost from the Queensland Community. You can find the petition at http://www.communityrun.org/petitions/save-sisters-inside. The public outcry this represents reflects the real benefit to the people of Queensland provided by Sisters inside, their appreciation for what the organisation has given the community, and a strong desire to ensure its services continue.

We strongly urge the Queensland LNP to rethink its decision, and perhaps more importantly, to consider the philosophical implications of ignoring the people it deems to support and represent.  This service supports women who need it most, when there is no one else to support them; and furthermore, it actually saves Queensland taxpayers money. There are plenty of reasons to fund Sisters Inside, but no valid reason to defund it.

We look forward to reading your reply in regards to this matter, especially the government’s explanation as to why Sisters Inside inc. has been defunded.


Emma Di Bernardo and Caitlin Gordon-King
on behalf of the UQ Women’s Collective
and the QUT Women’s Collective.

Women CEOs have “traumatic” childhoods: UQWC Letter of Complaint in response to ‘Momentum’ Article

A member of the UQ Women’s Collective was recently surprised and dismayed to come across an article in ‘Momentum’, the magazine of the UQ Business School. The article profiled male and female CEOs, essentially arguing that virtually all female CEOs have had dramatic or traumatic childhoods, which equipped them with the leadership and adaptation skills necessary for success in the business world. Meanwhile, male CEOs were seemingly endowed with these skills naturally – which, the author seemed to suggest, was largely due to the presence of a stay-at-home mother. As a collective, we were upset with the researcher’s methods, tone, assumptions and conclusions, and so we wrote a complaint letter to the magazine to tell them so.

To whom it may concern,

On behalf of the UQ Women’s Collective, I am writing to register my disappointment at the publication of a recent Momentum article – ‘Women at the top’, by Dr. Terrance Fitzsimmons. While we welcome the fact that new research is being conducted on the phenomena of Australia’s embarrassingly low rate of female CEOs, we found this article to be offensive and damaging.

Firstly, we found Dr Fitzsimmons’ research methods to be questionable in the following areas:

a)    Self-selecting participants with no subject matching criteria.

b)   No verification of participant responses (e.g. the claim that most male CEOs were football captains. It is no secret that people can and do invent past achievements – for instance, the CEO of Yahoo blatantly lied about having a Bachelor’s Degree.)

c)    Bias introduced by having the interviews carried out by the investigator rather than a question script presented by a blind actor.

d)   Bias introduced again by the investigator coding his transcripts without using multiple blind.

e)    No consideration of the type of life events considered significant by patriarchal gender expectations (e.g. social emphasis on women; achievement emphasis on men). Instead the investigator asked only about significant life events.

f)     Interview times were significantly longer for female participants (70 minutes, as opposed to 48 minutes). If the interviewer emphasised certain areas repeatedly with only the female participants, the results are no longer valid.

g)    Conclusions not supported by statistics or even raw numbers of the contextual categories between groups, although they were supposedly coded. Statements are supported solely with exemplar quotes and blanket statements such as ‘a trend emerged’.

Reading Dr Fitzsimmons’ thesis, we were particularly troubled by page 184, which contained a diagrammatic representation of the different roles prescribed by male and female CEOs to their (heterosexual) parents. While female CEOs prescribe a spread of values to both their fathers (including equality) and mothers (including integrity, work ethic, leadership and self-efficacy), male CEOs label their fathers’ roles to include ‘dominance’, ‘maleness’ (as if maleness were a widely accepted trait as opposed to a contested social construction) and ‘self-efficacy’ and prescribe the sole value of ‘supports male’ to their mothers.

Dr Fitzsimmons presented these traits as fact, rather than participant opinion. We find it difficult to believe that there exist so many women who have no values at all except to support men, and would postulate that these data in fact reflect the blatantly sexist attitudes of male CEOs. From which one might pose the alternative hypothesis that such attitudes from current (male) CEOs either affects, or are representative of the attitudes of the executive boards that appoints new CEOs (and executive board members, and upper management roles etc), resulting in the under-representation of women in these positions.

Furthermore, we were troubled by Dr Fitzsimmons’ assertion that “[t]here is nothing you can do right now to fix the problem, no matter how much legislation you ram through, because you are talking about a deep-seated cultural issue”. This statement seems to offer an excuse for governments, companies and current CEOs to not even attempt drafting equal opportunity laws, employing more women in higher-level positions, or fostering a workplace culture that encourages and supports women.

As is surely obvious, people in positions of power do not willingly give away that power. They must be forced to, and often the only way this can take place is through changes to the law. In asserting that the CEO gender gap is a “deep-seated cultural issue”, Dr Fitzsimmons discounts and ignores the enormous possibility of legislation (as a tool and reflection of culture) to effect cultural change. (He also contradicts himself later, by stressing the importance of governmental support for extended childcare hours.) We offer the situation of Norway (now one of the most ‘equal’ countries in the world, following the introduction of a quota system) as an example of successful change through legislation.

We were also extremely disappointed by the lack of attention paid to men’s roles. The ‘conundrum of the working women’ is a trope that too often ignores the immense capability of men to assist with child-rearing and housework. Thus women find themselves working two jobs – one in the ‘formal’ workforce, and one in their own homes. Dr Fitzsimmons seems to recognise this latter point, but encourages increased childcare subsidies, instead of an expectation that men take an equal role in looking after the home and children that belong to them just as much as to their female partners.

Furthermore, childcare and housework services bring their own problems – although useful for working women, it is largely ignored that childcare workers, nannies and housekeepers are women of a lower socio-economic status, often women of colour. This perpetuates gender and race stereotypes at the expense of allowing a certain type of woman (white, upper-middle class) to ‘get ahead’ in the workforce.

We were especially disheartened by the lack of solution offered by Dr Fitzsimmons. If he discounts legislation, what is left? Does he wish to let time pass and hope the issue will resolve itself? As mentioned before, power is never given willingly – it must be taken, often after generations of perpetuating the ideal of a more just, inclusive and equal society. We feel that Dr Fitzsimmons’ research insults and damages the work that many are doing to advance towards such a society.

In disappointment,

The University of Queensland Women’s Collective 

This letter of complaint was also published at NUS Women’s Blog.
It will also feature in the upcoming issue of Wom*news