Passing on feminism (or not passing it on)

Caroline Louise Howard Grøn

I belong to a lucky crowd of female scholars in Denmark who have never really felt gender to be a hindrance, in terms of career aspirations or otherwise. I grew up playing with boys and with very strong female role models and basically never doubted that girls can achieve just as much (if not more) than boys. After some years where the whole gender issue has not really been a big deal for me becoming a mum (to a girl) has accentuated some of the issues for me.

My daughter is 3 years old and is currently working quite a lot on the question of gender identity. She attends a nice kindergarten with well-educated daycare workers. Beyond being nice and professional, they generally also have a really sound attitude towards children, in my opinion. The kindergarten has a huge playground, most of it a wilderness where the children spend their afternoons getting really dirty. Sometimes so dirty that I have to take a deep breath before lifting my daughter to give her a hug when arriving in office attire to pick her up.

This morning, I picked out her clothes as I always do. I’m quite strict on it – I (or to be fair her father) decide what she wears. She is dressed according to the weather and the fact that she spends a substantial part of her time outdoors playing. This doesn’t mean that she cannot wear something she likes, or that she doesn’t have (too many) pink or lilac items in her closet. But at the end of the day, I decide; I try to strike a balance between all the pink clothes available to little girls, and items that are less ‘gender specific’, and I guess in my humble opinion better suited for playground life. Growing up in the 1980s I never had to deal with the whole ‘princess thing’ haunting small girls today, and I guess that has also left me quite unwilling to dress my daughter as a princess. (Now, *there’s* some serious material for other posts on what we do to our little girls!!! Please stop referring to them as princesses…)

I dressed her in a red t-shirt (which she really liked) a pair of black leggings with flowers on and a pair of denim shorts (hoping the afternoon would be warm enough for her to go bare legged in the playground). Finally reaching the stage where we were ready to get out the door (a stage that one has to wait for with a 3 year old around), Sofie looked at her clothes and looked back at me and said ‘mummy, the other kids in kindergarten will say I look like a boy!’. Now, all parents think their kids are adorable, but Sofie has big eyes and long blond hair and by all means does not look like a boy. Right now it matters, I guess coming to terms with your gender identity is quite normal at 3. So I asked her why. She pointed to her denim shorts. ‘They are for boys’ she proclaimed. Now, we all know that is factually wrong. Denim shorts are not for boys. I guess we can all remember ads (which we may object to on other accounts…) but which clearly illustrated that denim short are not exclusively for boys. I however, was quite surprised. How could denim shorts be for boys? And why on earth would the other kids comment on her clothes? At 3? Couldn’t they at least wait until they become teenagers to start with that kind of behavior?

I tried to explain to her why her shorts are not for boys, and that she does not look like one. If she had been a bit older, and we had not already been late, perhaps I should have also questioned the problem of looking like a boy. Instead I tried to provide her with ammunition, should anyone try to bully her during the day.

I guess I am still left a bit baffled, however. I know the daycare workers – they are not the ones reproducing stereotypes like that. I know most of the parents – really nice people, with all the dads I know extremely involved with raising their kids, clearly indicating households where chores are shared equally. While I, of course, do not know what other parents tell their kids in the privacy of their own homes, I think perhaps some of us may skim a little too lightly over the fact that the clothes offered to girls are currently very ‘girlish’. We may think that since we feel equal, so will our girls. That since we have been able to deal with previous cultural stereotypes regarding gender, we can let loose on the princess-mania facing our little girls, kindly sponsored by Disney. Now, my daughter will always be allowed to watch princess Sophia on Disney Junior, and she has dresses for dress-up, and she will be allowed that as well. But we need to talk about it. We need to talk about what gender means, and how it should never limit you.

We may be taking our equality for granted, but oppression comes in many shapes and forms, and while my generation (in my specific cultural and geographical context) may not be completely free of it, I guess we have become aware of how to deal with quite a lot of it. But we do need to remember to pass that on to our girls. Because, frankly, my daughter looks great in denim shorts and they are really practical for playing with mud in the playground. She just needs to know, that just as we don’t leave anything else exclusively for the boys (say power, prestige, high wages), we will not leave denim shorts either.

Professionally outraged feminists in 2015

Henry Sebastian 

 

I can’t stop thinking about “professional outrage” as a framing device deployed to delegitimize opposition to hegemonic structures. Particularly interesting has been the migration of “professional outrage” from a pejorative used more commonly, at least in my lifetime, by those of a socially conservative persuasion, towards one that has found a fecund existence in leftist discourse. Tracing this transformation almost inevitably involves highlighting the experiences of various feminist projects. Why is this link to feminism so unsurprising? It might have something to do with the fact that, while feminist perspectives have undergone well-documented struggles in finding a political voice on the right-wing, they have all too often been treated as peripheral on the left-wing too. 

“Political correctness” – inherently “gone mad” – is a term more comfortably associated with the likes of The Daily Mail and UKIP. Easy targets for our [feminist] ire, propagating myths of how oppressed “British values” have become, threatened by an elitist, sanctimonious attack. The demonic forces of political correctness (the “PC Brigade!”) to me always seemed most coherently expressed as a triad: the multiculturalists, the feminists and the [champagne] socialists, who purportedly operate as a sort of co-ordinator, whipping up the PC madness for their own agenda of electoral viability. In truth, the Richard Littlejohns of this world have been banging that drum for years, and I’ve got little interest in revisiting. What I would like to suggest instead is that in 2015, while there are subtle differences in how this logic operates, it persists under the guise of “professional outrage”, and in an arguably more insidious fashion.

Hordes of the “professionally outraged” are everywhere. They’re bringing down “sexist” scientists, “racist” student bodies and “transphobic” academics. Navigating the below-the-line comments section of any major online publication is to be caught up in swarm of righteous anger, fury and disbelief. How could people behave this way? Isn’t it disgusting? We deserve better than this. These voices, however, are not the “professionally outraged”. To be quite clear, the most vitriolic online outpouring of recent months has been on behalf of those who – deep breath – are outraged by the outrage. And, quite revealingly, this responsive outrage often matches and surpasses the original aggrievement itself! 

The most obvious example of this dynamic is that of afore-linked Tim Hunt, already something of a fable among the “professionally-outraged at the professional-outrage” crew. In case you don’t know, the story follows a familiar trajectory: senior man says women pose a unique problem in his working environment (“You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.”) and the audience remain largely silent – I think it is safe to assume that at least in some cases this would qualify as uncomfortable silence. So far, so standard: while this case has become communicated as somewhat unique in the mainstream media, most people who work in and around universities will hardly be dropping their jaws at the notion of a greying, established academic making casually demeaning remarks in an attempt to, in his words, provide “ironic” and “jocular” funzies for a crowd. What made Tim Hunt into a target of online ridicule and anger was hardly merely the content of what he was saying, but rather the perfect storm of a large, twitter-savvy audience, the particularly clumsy stench of his comments and a pre-existing narrative of public-power anchored by the role social media plays in public life. See it as an auxiliary of Jodi Dean’s concept of “communicative capitalism”. 

Just as quickly as the backlash against Hunt, came the backlash against the backlash. The endless accusations of professional outrage, of people looking for a problem. Hunt, and his similarly esteemed partner Professor Mary Collins, were interviewed barely four days after the controversial event in The Observer. The article included the editorial line that “His treatment also demonstrates the innate cruelty of social media, and in particular the savage power of Twitter”. I’m reminded here of Jon Ronson’s engaging and timely – if, to my mind, flawed – book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”. Flawed, because Ronson omitted the backlash – the voice that he was articulating, in fact – from thorough critique. Social media pile-ons are a regular occurrence, but I’d wager that the experiences of many feminists with an online profile would challenge the object of Ronson’s book. By focusing on figures who have been shamed for perceived racism or sexism, he neglects the rampant shaming that greets those who highlight problematic behaviours in the first place. In the case of Hunt, could we argue that the voice hurt most by this whole imbroglio might not actually have been his, but the women forced almost immediately onto the defence for finding what he said problematic? 

So this is where we are. The derision that the trope of “political correctness” once invited has been slowly folded in on itself, so much so that supposedly “progressive” types (Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox spring to mind) express righteous indignation in defence of Hunt losing his honorary titles. And this isn’t to mention that, naturally, several well-respected members of the governing Conservative Party felt equally compelled to express their concern at a “witch hunt” culture too (see Boris Johnson). The narrative propagated of a lone purveyor of “common sense” or wise-cracking comedy (Hunt) under siege by a multitude of angry tweeters is misleading to say the least. What does “political correctness’” reincarnation as a cross-spectrum shut-down device mean for feminists in 2015? I hope it serves as a warning. To quote Sara Salem’s previous post on this blog: 

“What is even more astounding about the feminist-as-killjoy “accusation” is that it is feminists who have to defend themselves by showing that they’re *not* angry, sensitive, PMSing, and so on” 

Isn’t the accusation of “professional outrage” eerily similar to that of the feminist killjoy? The flipping of accuser into accused, of the problem itself becoming recast as the problem of perception (to borrow the title of a fantastic Sara Ahmed post on this topic). It reminds me of the furore that greeted tumblr’s embrace of intersectional feminism, and its infamous mantra / Flavia Dzodan’s brilliant spiel: my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit. Back then (all the way back in 2011!) notable left-wing political writers (and many feminists) queued up to bemoan the crassness of its “identity politics” (Mark Fisher provided the most lucid example of this with the aptly titled “Exiting the Vampire Castle”) and refer instead to a materialist critique that avoided foregrounding identity as anything other than a sub-category of capital exploitation. A legitimate debate indeed, but the tactics of disavowal – you’re being solipsistic, you’re looking for fragmented discrimination – again hark to the problem of perception, and the idea that the intersectional feminists writing online, many of them young, were simply looking for problems. I’m not sure what we can learn from, or how we can weaponize this discomforting experience of being called professionally outraged (as if it pays!), but I’m confident we should be especially vigilant whenever we hear someone use it as a way of dismissing an outrage outright, whatever their political persuasion.

Women, feminism and the validity of feelings

Sara Salem

I’ve been thinking about feelings lately and the ways in which the validity of certain feelings and the invalidity of others act as forms of self-censorship of self-punishment. It wasn’t until I came across Sara Ahmed’s work on phenomenology and feminism that I was finally able to articulate some of the feelings I had towards being a feminist and the ways in which that is seen and the ways in which I am seen because of identifying with feminism. Sara Ahmed’s notion of always being a killjoy has been particularly useful because for me it sums up the crux of the matter: feminists are seen as killjoys, and for that reason it is something that is frowned upon, dismissed, made fun of, or even attacked violently. 

It should come across as no surprise that calling oneself a feminist is not exactly something that makes one popular or wins over lots of people. The word feminist itself has become so associated with negative imagery that even within certain “critical” circles it’s become difficult to identify as a feminist. This is even more pronounced somewhere like Egypt where the term feminist comes with imperialist connotations, which, fair enough, do exist. But my concern is more with people who dismiss the term because it is “too radical” or “too hateful.” Feminists hate men, live in women-only enclaves, and are always angry. The problem is when we try to counter this argument by saying that “not all feminists” do those things or are like that, because that of course is a trap in and of itself. Plenty of feminists do take very radical approaches to men, and most are probably angry (as am I). But not subscribing to radical feminism (I’m not a big fan either, for different reasons) is still not enough of a reason to denounce feminism as a whole. 

What is even more astounding about the feminist-as-killjoy “accusation” is that it is feminists who have to defend themselves by showing that they’re *not* angry, sensitive, PMSing, and so on. The burden of proof (proving our civility and happiness and proving that we won’t be killjoys) lies with feminists and women, so that we can show that while we may have specific views on gender, no need to worry since we’ll be careful not to bother you with them. So here the focus is not on patriarchy or the many reasons why women may be angry. Instead attention is deflected away from that and put on the women themselves. 

I’m sure we’ve all had these moments (everyday) where someone says something sexist or does something sexist, and you point it out. Sometimes you even point it out as a joke so you don’t kill the mood *too much.* But still…the mood gets killed, people roll their eyes, everyone is like “oh that again” and somehow the whole conversation has become about the person pointing out the problem rather than the problem itself. 

This is what I find fascinating…how disrupting hegemonic performances is such a threat that any disruption must be pathologized and attacked. Any attempt to disrupt an act of patriarchal masculinity or patriarchal femininity is met with so much resistance that over time the only effect is to wear down the person doing the disrupting. And this brings me back to my initial point – that this all ends with self-censorship. Not at the shallow level of censoring oneself consciously: “Oh, don’t say that cause he’ll respond with this.” It operates at a much deeper level by creating questions in ourselves about our own positionalities and our own beliefs. Above all, it creates questions about the validity of the feelings we are having. The question of over-reaction, of sentimentality, of anger, of PMS – these have all become all-too-common discussions I’ve had with feminist friends. 

And yet these questions bring us straight back to square one – patriarchy functions precisely by assigning emotionality to women and rationality to men. Whether women are too angry, too happy, too flirty, or too dramatic, there is always a state of feeling – women are always feeling something, and feeling too much of it. It seems to me that the damage this has done to feminism is quite notable, in the sense that this has been transplanted onto feminists as well, who happen to be mostly women: feminists also feel too much, and react too often, to situations that are in fact quite rational and do not need to be reacted to in an overly-emotional manner. 

And yet all of this creates, within women, a constant state of agitation. On the one hand, you notice hegemonic masculinity everywhere, and you see the ways in which patriarchy is performed, even among men who may identify with feminism. And this by itself is disconcerting, and often painful. On the other hand, the price of disrupting patriarchy is so high that you constantly have to ask yourself questions about the validity of what you are feeling. And yet, you felt something. But…did you really need to feel that way? Isn’t it just another case of you over-reacting? Maybe it’s that time of the month? Maybe you just need to see patriarchy everywhere since you’re a feminist and that’s what feminists do? Maybe it wasn’t intentional? But. I still felt a certain way. 

Agitation. 

Women are always told to doubt their feelings and question the validity of what they are feeling. I will never forget a conversation I had about a month ago, with a woman who I had just met. I was telling her about a guy situation, and that I felt angry, but that I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t think I had the right to be angry about what had happened. All she said was: “Ok. But you are angry. So what if you should or shouldn’t be?” And I actually stopped and thought…what a revolutionary way of looking at feelings! 

This is not to say we shouldn’t be self-reflexive about how we feel and what we feel. As human beings (as in…men and women) we all over-react at times, are sensitive about certain issues, and get emotional when we’re hungry. But to my knowledge, only one sex is socialized to always question how they feel. And all this does, in the end, is make the distance between what we feel and what we *should* feel huge, and this doesn’t seem like anything but a form of self-punishment.

From the neoliberal university to cruising conferences in the Baltic

Tiina Vaittinen

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It is year 2027. Exactly twelve years has passed since an anonymous DOT blog post about stealing conferences provoked an important and timely debate about the cost of conferencing for postgraduate (PGR) and early career researchers (ECR) – and about viable methods of resistance. Authors of the feministacademiccollective participated in the debate, correcting misunderstandings and misrepresentations in the original post, as well as providing constructive advice on how to support PGRs and ECRs without having to steal anything from anyone.

Importantly, the debate continued in Facebook, as debates do. As we all know, what happens in Facebook rarely stays in Facebook, and history starts to take unexpected turns. This is also why several hundred IR scholars from the UK, and dozens of us clearly just wanting to hang out with British IR scholars, are now standing in a poorly organised line at the Katajanokka harbour in Helsinki. We are all thrilled to bits, about to board The Conference Boat any minute now! It is time for the 10th BISA Cruising Conference at the Baltic Sea.

This year’s conference is sponsored by the national broadcasting companies BBC and YLE as well as one of the Finnish/Swedish/Estonian[i] cruise lines sailing the Baltic. The broadcasting companies’ camera(wo)men are filming material at the waiting lounge of the terminal as discreetly as possible. They focus particularly on the twenty lucky PGRs and ECRs (for once not all male!) plus the nonpaid conference secretary, who have gotten all their conference costs covered on the condition that the camera(wo)men can follow them throughout the Cruising Conference.

As often as possible however, the cameras also zoom in to the table of The Establishment, consisting mostly of professors, having a pint with the lads. The same table each year. New members come and go, even the topics of the discussions may change, but the table of The Establishment has turned into a tradition over the years.

Thanks to Juha Sipilä’s government policies during the end of the previous decade, the inflation is still skyrocketing in Finland, so the prices of beer at the terminal pub are high. Therefore those not part of The Establishment, or simply without a salary, are waiting with dry mouths to get on board, so they get to buy the tax-free vodka on the boat.

Because of the camera crews, the IR scholarship in the terminal looks a bit strange: Everyone is wearing a Stetson, shades, a scarf, a hoodie, whatnot, aiming at the looks of Clint Eastwood, Jackie Kennedy, nobody or anybody – in short at looks very different from one’s usual appearance. The Stetsons come in handy in all conferences of course – regardless of the panel really – when throwing in arguments from the top of one’s hat. Yet this time there is also another purpose for the camouflage. Namely, the material filmed on The boat is not for the purposes of marketing the conference at the BISA home site, nor is it for making Youtube clips for students to learn about The Discipline.

No no.

While the ISA might have paid USD 15K for filming the Sapphire Series in New Orleans in 2015, at around the same time BISA came up with a way of making its conferences both ‘cheap’ to attend and profitable for the academic community.

This is not just a conference. This is not simply a cruise.

This is academic Reality.

All the material, filmed by fifteen teams during the four day conference, will be cut afterwards into dramatic narratives, and then screened on the British and Finnish national TVs the following winter, as a reality show titled The Academic Cruise (on BBC), or Kruisaillen Akatemiaan (on YLE). This is something us IR scholars just love to watch in 2027, when relaxing after a long day at the office – while of course enjoying the season requires (a) not having participated the previous summer’s conference, (b) having avoided cameras, (c) shitloads of self-irony, (d) preferably all the mentioned.

Why???  You may ask now, in July 2015.

Well, why not?

I mean, as much as I found the “stealing conferences” idea funny at first, after Nicki, Laura, and Kathryn’s posts in this blog, I realise that the political economy of academic conferences is much more complicated than that. In fact, the further debate in FB taught me a whole lot more about it – while eventually getting slightly carried away with wild ideas about the future of conferencing.

But seriously, did you know that – while conference hotels only see dollars, euros and sterling at the word “conference” – these days it might actually be more expensive to organise a conference at university premises? I didn’t know that.

And I cannot believe it. For real, the neoliberal university might aim at making more profit at academic activities than commercial hotel chains?! Shame on you, university, I’m so disappointed at you.

Rumours tell that one might be able to organise smaller colloquiums or seminars at one’s university for free, by booking rooms without saying the word “conference” [pronounced apparently as PROFIT in the newspeak of the neoliberal uni]. Yet, this is really not an option for bigger organisations like BISA (which by the way, I’m not even a member of, I’m just easily provoked for a bit of rant, and sarcasm is my method of solidarity, especially with and for the Brits).

So really, individual academics “stealing” conferences makes no difference at an era where entire academic communities are asked to buy space for the academia within the university, from the university. It is simply absurd, that organising an academic gathering at the university premises would require the organisers to steal space from the university for the academic community – by booking rooms and not telling that the rooms are booked for a (hush-hush) c-o-n-f-e-r-e-n-c-e.

When I earlier today heard about this nonsense apparently taking place in the British universities, I sighed – being thankful that the Finnish university, while rapidly neoliberalising its policies is not quite there yet.

And then I sighed again – sadly, almost tearfully. Give it a few years and a few more tears, and we’ll be there, no questions asked. (In fact, we’ll be way beyond: on the cruise ships and on reality TV…)

Because that is actually what we are doing in our welfare periphery at the very moment. We’re “going international” or “internationalising the university”, which reads:

– Do everything as the neoliberal universities do in the UK or Northern America!! Become them. This is absolutely vital for the Finnish universities to survive.

[Why? Some odd voices ask, silently, because it’s not only a stupid question, but also precarious labour should not ask questions.]

– Because of the global competition!! Our universities need to perform as well as the Anglo-Americans, using the same [neoliberal] methods [be they good or not] – because our universities will otherwise perish!!!!

[Ah, ok. Nevermind the university’s role of critical thinking, education etc. values that once justified the establishment of universities in various peripheries, too…?]

– Values? Oh, those… Perished long ago, my child, don’t be such an idealist, think about the economy. We have no options, all these policies come from above. From the economic necessity

So, really. Why not really just hop properly on board the neoliberal madness of organising conferences? Why not actually start making the conferences profitable while simultaously popularising the academic reality?

We could, for starters, take the conferences on cruise ships!! (This actually might  be a good idea, the brainstorming reported in this post just got a bit carried away…) Here’s how some of us thought it might look like, IR sailing the Baltic Sea, sometime in the future… Many of the ideas are not mine (I stole them from the FB thread), the narration and dramatisation might be.


It is the second day of the 10th BISA Cruising Conference at the Baltic Sea, in 2027. It has all begun well. The booze is tax free, and yet it is not too long a way to stumble from the cabins to the conference rooms in the mornings. There is a night club on the 6th Deck, and a small casino. A lot of GREAT networking is taking place (also outside the night club), but some of this activity has unfortunately slipped the TV cameras’ attention. We all know that if something should be documented for proof in conferences, it is the great networking we do. Seriously, tweeting selfies taken with scholars whose work we have adored for years is nothing – when you can get all those relaxed and intelligently funny discussions you had with them documented on a reality show on the national TV!

No one has been overly frustrated about the disciplinary boundaries as of yet, so as to jump to the sea. Besides, the risk is lower for those kinds of incidents now, after a discreetly operating feminist support group EDGE was established three years ago to take care of younger scholars after their presentations. The need for the EDGE was urgent: after hearing comments to their work from the cutting edge scholars operating as discussants, many young conference cruisers have been literally ‘on the edge’ over the past years. Cameras recording of course, microphones tied to their backs, and why not: Someone jumping to the sea would have been a profitable scene to show on the national TV, and hence a source of profit for the academic community, too.

These days the ten camera crews take turns to follow the EDGE volunteers throughout the conference. This has proved to provide delicate (profitable) material where people speak openly about the academic reality – and no, this material you would not get at the tables of The Establishment.

When the Cruising Conference was brainstormed in 2015–2016, first as a joke really, ideas were thrown around about the misfits, anarchists and those theorising the International all wrong to be pushed to the sea. The first season’s reality show producers were keen on having this included in the General Program of the Conference. They would have broadcast parts of the conference live so as to get direct audience input to the show, with votes coming in each day on who’s in and who’s out. Those voted out would be thrown to the sea– so like an academic version of the Survivor, really. (The women getting the conference grant would have been asked to wear a bikini throughout the conference.) Luckily – or unfortunately, depending on your perspective – some feminist killjoys specialised in human rights called the plan off. So if someone’s kicked to the sea during a conference now – it’s not official.

Not all of the Cruising Conferences have taken place in the Baltic actually. Five years ago, the conference was taken to the Trans-Siberian Railway, following the lead of Unconventional Conventions. Also “the world’s most luxurious train”, i.e. Rovos Rail’s Edwardian Pride of Africa, or “a train journey through the tunnel of time” was considered. However, it was feared that The Establishment would not stop eating duck in the dining cars, that discontents would be thrown to the lions, and that some would do nothing else than soak themselves in the Victorian bathtubs of the Royal Suite (or that the non-British conference participants would cook themselves alive in the tub, forever incapable of using those Victorian taps).

So the Trans-Siberian Railway it was then and it went relatively well. The only reason for returning the conference to the Baltic Sea the following year was that, towards the end of the Trans-Siberian BISA, it started to be difficult to pull through the conference program. Too many participants had hopped off at unknown stations after a few drinks, getting lost in Siberia. Getting drunk and/or lost might not be all that different from the more “static” conference experiences, but losing the entire British IR community across a continent in Russia seemed too big a risk to take for BISA. (Yes, they do get lost each year in a continent across the Atlantic, when trying to get back from the ISA after several re-routings of their several flights, but there is a difference in where we’d want them to get lost.)

In any case, the Finnish universities were happy to get the BISA back to the Baltic, since its annual departure from Helsinki is a clear sign of the global competitiveness of the Finnish academia.

Anyway, the 10th BISA Cruising Conference at the Baltic Sea is going well. Some blokes in their scuba diving gear were detected at the buffet table at lunch time earlier today, munching away until taken away by colleagues from the critical security studies working group. Stealing conferences has become more difficult now that we’re sailing.

On Deck 10, a crowd of conference participants is queuing to rent binoculars from a graduate student, who’s funding her research through Conference Binocular Renting™. She’s gotten the job via Any Odd Jobs for Academics Ltd. This is a transnationally operating staffing company, which was originally established to provide temporary teaching staff for universities, but now provides also other services to the academic community – and of course work for the younger academics, who can really do with any odd job to fund their academic work. The Conference Binocular Renting™ is a profitable business in the annual BISA at the Baltic, since it is often possible to see U-boats during sunset. Of course packing up own binoculars at home to accompany all those Stetsons and shades would be such a hassle. If you have the money, you rent – and thereby support the career of the grad student. Win, win, win.

Tonight, the evening is calm, and the sunset on the still Baltic is magnificent to watch, with or without the U-boats, with or without the binoculars. But then, a conference participant with binoculars sees something in the sea.

“What the hell is that…?” He peaks through his binoculars, and then again with bare eyes. From the Eastern horizon, a figure is approaching the Conference Boat at a spectacular speed. The last sun beams of the day shine on the figure as it approaches – as he approaches. It is a topless, muscular male figure, wearing army boots and army pants, no shirt, bare muscle.

Bare life?

No, hold on…

He’s paddling through the still Baltic Sea towards the Boat, now close enough that we can see the vehicle: a SUP (Stand Up Paddle) board!

A topless man is SUPping towards the conference boat at a spectacular speed?

Solitarily, like an embodied sovereign power par excellence, the muscular figure paddles towards us, the knowers of the International.

It is Vladimir!

Putin himself has joined the 10th BISA Cruising Conference at the Baltic Sea. He’s come for a pint.

Possibly with the lads.

[The post is a parody, expressing no official views on anything. The author takes no responsibility on any historical developments, debates or future conference formats that may follow – while of course welcoming the BISA to Finland if need be, to the Baltic or otherwise.]


[i] …which ever happens to have the most favourable taxation and other benefits available for shipping companies in 2027.

Making sandwiches in academia

Nicki Smith 

 

The phrase ‘Make me a sandwich’, which distills the age-old sexist stereotype that women belong in the kitchen, is something that I have found myself increasingly thinking about in the context of academia. More specifically, I have found myself thinking about where, in academia, the kitchen might lie, and who might be expected to be in it? Or, put another way: if we know that labour is gendered, and that certain forms of labour are coded as masculine – and are valorised as such – whereas other forms of labour are coded as feminine – and are devalued as such – then what does this mean for the constitution of labour in academia? What, in short, does it mean to make a sandwich, and who is being asked to make it?

Of course as an academic I know that it is published research, above all else, that constitutes the most valorised and rewarded form of labour: it is the necessary-if-not-sufficient precondition for appointments, promotions, raises, accolades, recognition. As a postdoctoral fellow I was advised by my mentor to remember three things: ‘publication, publication, publication.’ And a much-loved and very wise friend has advised me: ‘Don’t ever let your research slip; it’s the only currency you can spend’. She is absolutely right.

But where does that leave the sandwiches? Obviously I don’t mean actual sandwiches (although being a chubber I’m writing this imagining actual sandwiches). What I really mean by ‘making sandwiches’ is ‘engaging in feminised labour’ – and what I mean in turn by that is ‘engaging in labour that is devalued’. The simple fact is that undertaking research is constituted as a distinctly ‘non-sandwich making’ activity. Or, put another way, research is coded, and valued, as ‘real work’. It is, to stretch my metaphor to its very limits, the ‘husband work’ (i.e. the symbolically ‘paid’ work); it is the bring-home-the-bacon-work, if you will. It is just that the wives then have to make the bacon sandwiches. Teaching and admin, in contrast, are coded as the ‘wife work’ – that is, they are classified as not really being ‘work’ at all.

Let me instantly qualify this. Most academics love teaching, and see it as hugely important; indeed, many see it is the single most important aspect of what we do. Few academics love admin, but we recognise that it is an important (if not always entirely necessary) part of our jobs. But, if you ask any random academic (as I frequently do), then what we will tend to say is this: that, although teaching and admin take up nearly every moment of our working ‘slash’ waking lives, we spend every one of those moments with the horrible, sick sense that we are not doing our ‘proper’ work. Because our ‘proper’ work – or so the structures tell us – is to write. Writing is, in effect, constructed as the economically productive work (whereas teaching and admin are positioned as the socially reproductive work). And most academics do (desperately) want to write. We love it, indeed need to do it. It enhances our teaching, and helps us to engage with the ‘world outside’. It’s just that there are so many sandwiches to make that we have to squeeze in half an hour of writing at weekends. It is stressful to write a ground-breaking, 80,000 word book in a handful of evenings whilst simultaneously making a gazillion sandwiches.

So, where to go from here? Let’s start by acknowledging the sandwiches. Let’s apply feminist theories of social reproduction to academia. Let’s recognise that, behind every hyper-productive, superstar ‘husband’ in academia, there is a team of socially reproductive ‘wives’ whose labour is regarded as unexceptional and so is left uncelebrated. Let’s celebrate their labour (including, but not only, when it is done by men). Let’s ask probing questions about ‘Who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner?’ Let’s ensure a proper rotation of the domestic labour so that the consistently overburdened get a proper break. Let’s genuinely reward, not penalise, people for doing such labour. Let’s recognise supporting (and not just management) roles for promotion. Let’s never forget to thank the perpetual ‘good citizens’ but, conversely, let’s not thank them and then ask why they don’t publish more; the clue lies in the first part of this sentence. Let’s never (any of us) gobble up the sandwiches as if they have magically appeared in the fridge, and then ask the wives what they have been doing all day. And, most of all: let’s not address these issues by asking junior and/or female colleagues to make even more sandwiches. Whatever we do, let’s make sure that we all share the load.

[Note: Lest this post lands me in a (Branston) pickle, I should add that I’m not intending to trivialise what is, in fact, a serious point: that academic labour is practiced and valued in ways that I see as profoundly gendered. Rather, I see parody itself as a ‘serious’ form of political expression. The post is also meant as a critique not of particular individuals or institutions but rather of the cultures and discourses in academia that denigrate what are, in reality, crucially important forms of labour upon which we all depend].

Even more on stealing conferences

Kathryn Starnes

I’m finding these responses to that post very inspiring, particularly given my own experience of BISA this year. Not having done much conference organizing it is interesting to hear about some of the other side of it. I do know it takes a tremendous amount of work. It was something I thought about on the train home from London. One of the things missing from THE post was that stealing a conference means you can’t/won’t present. Often funding is available for PGRs and ECRs who are presenting–although I’d argue not nearly often enough. There are, of course, all kinds of problems at conferences–the persistence of all or mostly male panels, the cliquish nature of certain groups of academics etc. but I think there are far better ways to resist that will in turn put back into the academic community of PGRS and ECRs. Try going to a few panels where you don’t know anyone on the panel–it can be very disheartening for those who are scraping together the money to go and pouring lots of effort into a paper only to present to a nearly empty room because everyone has gone to see their friends present the same paper they’ve seen several times. Invite someone you don’t know well to come for coffee or dinner (preferably with those friends you missed seeing present!) and help by introducing PGRs and ECRs to more advanced academics (even if you are a PGR you can help by introducing other PGRs to people at your University with similar interests). I think we’ve all run into that person at a conference who is constantly craning their neck to see if there is someone more important or interesting they could be talking to. If you order an expensive meal and wine while someone at your table sticks to a salad and tap water, split the bill by what you ordered and don’t slip into letting those without a per Diem subsidize your meals (rare, but I had a colleague whose bank account was decimated by this!). Post papers on the conference website so that those without a current affiliation can access them, or offer to share your paper or other things you’ve written via e-mail with those who currently don’t have library access. Be mindful of the labour behind the often lavish conference setting (this was particularly poignant at this year’s BISA given the theme was inequality). Welcome academics with young children into your paper–don’t assume all academics have a ‘little lady’ at home for childcare. If you live in or near the city hosting the conference offer your sofa to a PGR without funding, use social media to coordinate sharing hotel rooms, or even post suggestions about how to share or get airport transport cheaply.

As a newly minted ECR, I enjoyed BISA in spite of the problems that seem endemic to larger conferences. However, I’ve often found smaller conferences to be very welcoming and an excellent place to get feedback and interact with researchers who are more advanced in their careers. These conferences are also often cheaper to attend and have fewer panels running simultaneously so your chances of getting a good audience to give you feedback is greater.

By and large I’ve had great experiences at conferences as a PGR and I think the majority of conference organizers and more advanced researchers do a fantastic job of welcoming in PGRs and ECRs. I’ve found many of them to be generous with their time, ideas, advice and reading. I do think there are things we can all do to keep the academic community a welcoming place, but I don’t think stealing conferences is the way to go about it.

More on stealing conferences

Laura McLeod

When I read the original post I felt very uncomfortable, in part because of that ‘blokish leftism’, but also because it is cheating and lying. Call me humourless if you want. I prefer my jokes to be a bit cleverer than that, if that’s ok. But I also think that the authors know that there is something morally wrong about ‘stealing a conference’, otherwise they wouldn’t have felt compelled to hide their names.

Before I go on, I cannot overstate my belief that we all need to do as much as we can to support PGRs and ECRs. We especially need to support those who, for whatever reason, do not have access to funding. Some PGRs do have funding for conferences – almost as much as stable academics who have research expenses from their universities – so the picture is, as ever, a little more complicated. But yes, I am passionate about the need to make sure that academia does not exclude the precarious researchers.

I have two points that I want to make. First, relating to the financing of conferences, second, relating to BISA support of PG and ECR researchers.

The financing of conferences. BISA is a charity, so I think that makes all its finances transparent. Go and ask for them if you want. But let me say this, hotels, universities and other venues cannot see anything other than those cartoon dollar signs the moment they hear the word “conference”. I have heard quotes that would make anyone weep. The hire of AV? “Sure, that’s £20,000!” It’s worse than saying “wedding”. Just say “conference” and watch the price for anything quadruple. “Stealing a conference” isn’t really targeting these people walking around with cartoon dollar signs. It’s attacking BISA, and they are the wrong “them” in this case.

BISA support of PGRs and ECRs. I can talk a little more here, as (laying my cards on the table here) I’m the convenor of the Gendering International Relations Working Group (GIRWG), which is supported by BISA. BISA is a charity. So, actually, cannot make a profit. Revenue has to go back into the charity! And the intended target of these charitable activities? Yep. PGRs and ECRs. And I can assure you, it has been made very clear to me, as the convenor of a WG, to do things that are accessible to PGRs and ECRs. A great example of this is the 2011 International Feminist Journal of Politics (IFJP) conference in Sussex. BISA gave GIRWG £1800 to support the IFJP conference. Much of this money was used to pay for PGRs and unemployed scholars to attend this very conference – travel and hotel accommodation. Let’s get this clear. BISA gave money to GIRWG to support conference attendance of precarious researchers. That doesn’t sound like that BISA itself is “chewing up and spitting out the next generation of scholars-with-no-future“. It really doesn’t. I myself, as a PhD student (perhaps starting to be a while ago, but I still like to delude myself that it was not that long ago), attended a fantastic conference in 2006 for free, thanks to BISA money. That conference was a formative experience for me, and I can only hope that those who benefit from BISA money to attend workshops and conferences also feel the same.

BISA also support the totally fantastic PG Network: http://bisapgn.com/. I cannot believe it, this is a totally amazing network who run conferences, first year PhD workshops and general networking stuff. I am in awe of the people who manage to find time from their PhD to run this network. Kudos.

And what about ECRs? BISA already has a reduced membership rate for ECRs, but also there are plans in the making to make available research grants specifically for ECRs. But also the BISA conference itself has lots of helpful sessions for ECRs – such as the “meet the editors” sessions for RIS and the soon to be launched EJIS. Both of these journals are important for ECRs to publish in to open up career opportunities.

I could go on. But I’ll finish on one note. BISA spends around £70,000 a year to fund research. That is a huge amount of money. Opportunities to access small and one-off pots of money in academia are getting smaller, and BISA are providing a really important role here in providing this. They aren’t the people that you need to “steal a conference from”. I play a very minor role in BISA, so I have no idea if BISA do actually generate any income from the conference. I suspect very little. I suspect that the conference breaks even, and necessarily so, so that membership fees are ploughed back into the association. BISA works very hard to provide opportunities for precarious researchers in the UK. Don’t steal from them. Don’t cheat and lie.