doing my duty?

Last week I attended GEA2017 – the Gender & Education Association Conference 2017 at Middlesex University. Having previously loitered primarily in academic spaces of lifelong learning and widening participation, this was a first ‘gender’ conference for me and I  admit to feeling a little apprehensive prior to arrival.  Would I be feminist ‘enough’ for this crowd?!

I’m feminist enough for most, probably never will be feminist enough for others is my conclusion! And anyway, that particular concern proved irrelevant. It was a ‘good’ conference. Academic high points included the keynote from Professor Ann Phoenix (UCL). Anyone who can hold an audience enthralled in a final keynote at 3pm on a sunny Friday afternoon has to be congratulated. In this case, it was a rare occurrence of an academic whose writing I admire turning out to be even more impressive in person and performance. A bold and inspired choice by the GEA2017 Organising Committee. Other high points included sessions by Gail Crimmons on co-authorship, Heather Laube on feminist outsider/insiders anda workshop on feminist citational practices introducing Cite Club  (the only rule of Cite Club is to talk about Cite Club!). I didn’t buy the T-shirt but now I wish I had!

the t shirt!
Mindy Blaise(L) and Emily Gray (R) wearing THE T shirt.

I guess I shouldn’t leave out my own paper and workshop sessions on my current research Gender(s) At Work – I’m particularly grateful to enthusiastic workshop participants who turned up to the early morning session post the conference BBQ!

Not academic – but equally crucial – high points included the food and drink – fantastic food from Steve the Chef, honestly best ever – all conferences can learn from him, and super generous supplies of prosecco plus from Taylor & Francis and University of Middlesex. The conference networking/eating/chilling space was the lovely Quad at Middlesex’s Hendon campus which protected us from last week’s 30+ degree heat and allowed plenty of space for conversation and private reflection. I liked the fact that conference delegates co-existed with university staff and students in that space – the life of the university was going on around us.

Conferences provide crucial opportunities to reconnect with colleagues and friends and this one was no different for me, despite my newbie status. Jennifer Fraser (Westminster) and I renewed our conference buddy relationship and it was good to connect again with Carol Taylor from my home city of Sheffield.

Of course I found some things problematic – repeated references to ‘favoured’ theorists, ideas – without ensuring that the audience are familiar with them; conference cliques (but then there are always conference cliques) – and the idea of ‘feminist duty’ which emerged in a workshop discussion – a phrase that leaves me cold … !!

GEA2017 also provided material for my forthcoming cartoon collection which will be featured here on the g word. Aimed at conference novices and old hands alike, this series will feature essential topics such as how to accessorise, the conference ‘sleb and the art of notworking … watch this space!  Hmmm … perhaps this is how I’m fulfilling my feminist duty – handing down the art of Conferencing With Confidence!

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glassed and gendered

Setting the scene for a new, interactive cartoon series: the glassed and gendered (HE) workplace…

The view from my post-1992 desk has changed utterly in 18 months, the sky now confined to a small corner, elbowed out by multi-story contemporary student learning and living spaces.  ‘Universities, ever more on edge about their performance in the National Student Survey and league tables, have responded by investing heavily in “student friendly” facilities (Scott 2015).  Glass features prominently.  Glass walls, windows and roofs, letting the light in, transparent, reflective …

Glass features too, if metaphorically, in the literature on gender and the workplace.  There’s the glass ceiling constraining women’s career progression (compounded by the sticky floor); the phenomenon of the glass cliff – describing the greater likelihood of women being put in leadership roles when the chance of failure is highest;  the glass escalator on which male staff ascend organisational hierarchies more speedily and smoothly than their female counterparts and the glass closet – in which John (Lord) Browne spent the majority of his otherwise successful corporate career.

So not just HE.  But the existence of this ‘hidden’ structural furniture contradicts those glass walled commons and spaces.  Starting this weekend, I’ll be introducing you to four inhabitants of our glassed and gendered HE workplaces – and asking you to send me your experiences to inform a new series of cartoons.