Teaching Feminism: What’s in it for me?

Lindsay Clark


This is my third (or maybe fourth) year of leading first year seminars in IR theory. This week was gendering IR. That meant, unsurprisingly talking about gender and international relations, and that filthy word ‘feminism’. It has been a source of fascination to me to see how, over the years, and between the classes there is such a wide range of different opinions regarding gender (and its usefulness in IR) and in particular, feminism.

In my first year I was dismayed that almost none of my students, male or female, were prepared to identify themselves as feminist. Whereas in my second year I had a wide range of different feminists- again both male and female. This was heartening except that almost all of them agreed that whilst feminism was important, and inequality was #bad there wasn’t really any chance of equality occurring any time soon so they might as well just shrug and go back to discussing their night out. So I was overjoyed and then dashed into depression. Accepting inequality that you know is wrong just because you can’t be bothered to think about what it might take to make changes?! The apathy fairly killed me off. This year I have a larger than previous cohort, and a wider range of students, a greater degree of diversity. Which is awesome- both in its own right and because it makes for a wider range of opinions and perspectives which I think are important. I was delighted that many more students were engaging with the ideas of feminism, and prepared to be vocal about it. I was delighted that students were prepared to problematize different types of feminism and to engage with debates on equality as similarity and difference, to engage with ideas of femininity as power, language as creating gendered structures and intersectionality in relation to race, class and sexuality. So far, so glorious.

I’ve just finished my last class on this topic and was struck how one of my usually very critical (i.e. embracing of Marxism, critical of Realism) students was only prepared to engage with the idea of feminism as a good thing once we talked about how women and men would benefit. If there wasn’t anything in it for him then he was prepared to shrug it off. Now I get that talking about gender inequality from a position of privilege (i.e. as a man, particularly a white man) can sometimes feel difficult and there is a fear of saying the wrong thing. It’s the same issues I have to tackle during the weeks on race and racism, and colonialism. In those classes I am forced to acknowledge, as a white woman, the oppression of non-white peoples which places me in a position of privilege. But here’s the thing: it might be difficult to talk about that but it’s far more difficult to be situated outside of privilege, it is far more difficult to be oppressed, it is far more difficult to experience and live with the existing structural and personal instances of racism. And therefore it would simply be wrong for me to remain silent, enjoying my white privilege without asking what it means for others. I am deeply troubled by the idea that to combat inequality of any format there needs to be some kind of quid pro quo: that I should ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ How dare I collude in the continuation of any form of oppression that my attention is drawn to (or is drawn away from- after all it is often the silences and absences that point to where inequality exists) purely because I cannot see a benefit to myself?

I try very hard to be mindful of the fact that these are first year students; that they are dealing with sensitive topics that they might not yet feel they have the knowledge or vocabulary for. I always try to make sure that the class engages with both ‘where are the women?’ in international relations and the importance of noting that gender does not just apply to women through looking at masculinity and world politics. I tried to make the class friendly and accessible: I included a slide of different types of feminism linked to different kinds of Pokémon (yeah cheesy I know but anything to get this one opened up!). I included a quote from Emma Watson’s He for She campaign about the importance of gender equality for men. But for the majority of students in this class ‘feminism’ remained a dirty word, and some students even claimed that men and women are not equal.

For this class feminists, in my students’ young, fertile, future-leading brains, were bra burning, ugly and dangerous. I tried to tweak things a little by ‘outing’ myself as a feminist (I don’t think anyone was surprised, despite the fact I was wearing a bra and make up, and hadn’t, during the course of any of my classes, set light to anything). I tried giving an example of sexism that I had personally experienced- to which they shrugged and said ‘yeah but the men found you threatening, your femaleness and femininity, so they were probably scared of being judged.’ And maybe the student’s assessment of my sexist characters reasons were right, but their acceptance of that behaviour as ‘normal’ or acceptable in some way, I think, was incredibly wrong.

We’re making progress, I know we are. There are gradual international steps towards gender equality being made I am sure. But it frightens me to still be living in a world where students who are apparently interested in politics (domestic and international) are prepared to shrug off dealing with oppression or inequality because it’s hard, because that’s the way it is, or, worst of all, because it’s not clear what’s in it for ‘me’.



What We Talked About at ISA: The Climate for Women in International Relations and Politics

The Disorder Of Things


Yesterday, The Guardian reported on the level of sexual harassment in British universities. Based on Freedom of Information requests (and for this and other reasons necessarily a partial insight into the incidence of harassment) the investigation nevertheless notes the combination of allegations from students against staff, and from colleagues against each other (roughly 60% and 40% of the total allegations respectively). Perhaps the most high profile media story on sexual harassment in universities so far, The Guardian piece nevertheless follows from a series of stories and controversies, most notably Sara Ahmed’s documentation of specific cases at Goldsmiths (covered in posts on the initial harassment conference, on the nature of evidence, on discovery and speaking out, and on resignation as a feminist issue).

Many of the same concerns have been raised in International Relations (IR) and politics. Individual stories of harassment have long circulated (and been…

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For all women, or for no women: power and feminism’s broken “relationship” with consumer capitalism.

Milly Morris

quote-where-there-is-power-there-is-resistance-michel-foucault-43-14-82(Photo credit)

On Wednesday 23rd February, Kelly-Anne Conway – right-hand woman to Donald Trump – proudly proclaimed to the Conservative Political Action Conference that she doesn’t identify as a feminist. Speaking over the cheering crowd, Conway stated the following:

“There’s an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices. … I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances” (see here)

It is important to note Conway’s ironic obliviousness to the fact that her ‘choices’ would not be possible to vocalise had it not have been for feminist struggles; women suffered – and are still suffering – to have a voice. Likewise, Conway sweeps over the fact that her status as a wealthy white woman has been an open door to choices, compared with the locked gate that many women find themselves facing. Indeed, Conway’s comment provides us with…

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YOU WANT ME TO BE DEPARTMENTAL EXAMS OFFICER? More on the making of sandwiches in academia….

Donna Lee



In a previous blog Nicki highlighted how academic labour is often practiced and valued in gendered ways and in a series of responses we shared how many of us had experienced these gendered workplace practices. Nicki set out some ways that we could encourage our institutions to have a better ethic of care when it came to divvying out and valuing these roles.

In the absence of this ethic of care, however, what can you do when you get the request, usually in an email – but, if you’re lucky, during your annual PDR – to be a jolly good citizen and take on the role of Exams Officer, Inductions Coordinator, Programme Leader, Library Rep……or, as Nicki put it, make some sandwiches? What if you’ve already been Dissertation Coordinator for two years, and prior to that you were 3rd Year Tutor, and now your Head of Department asks you to take over as Exams Officer? ‘Argh…I don’t want to be Exams Officer!’

How can you say ‘No’ without actually saying ‘No’?

Why not respond by saying that you are always willing to provide administrative support and that you are happy to consider taking on this new role but you’d first like to discuss how it will help your own staff development. Administrative responsibilities should be taken seriously…it is part of the job…but they should be managed in ways that support staff development.  Many of us – and I was the worst offender – take on a succession of admin roles that are, at best, a sideways move; one operational task after another. We just can’t say ‘No.’

Next time you’re asked to take on Exams Officer, why not suggest that you are open to a more strategic role (Director of Research would be more fun too). Or propose that you are seeking to further develop your administrative skillset by working at a higher (School, University) level at this stage in your career…having proven already in your previous roles as Placements Officer, Admissions Tutor etc that you’re really effective at operational tasks.  Better still, be proactive and put these proposals to your line manager in your next PDR.

And don’t forget to ask your line manager how the Department’s Athena Swan application/renewal is going…

“It’s such a shame…you have such a pretty face!” Tom Jones, femininity and fat as failure

By Milly Morris

This week, Tom Jones – veteran singer, TV talent show host and Welsh national treasure – spoke of one of his former client’s failures in the music industry. Like many before her, Lianne Mitchell had won The Voice UK under the premise that she would be embarking on a bright and bountiful future in the music industry, only to fade into obscurity. Jones stated that Mitchell’s short-lived career was directly linked to her weight-gain, a visual metaphor for her lack of drive and ambition:

“When she first came on, I thought about her trimming down a bit. Leanne had gotten comfortable singing in this holiday camp and she’d put on some weight (…) Rather than take the opportunity of winning The Voice and a having chance of getting a record deal, which she did, she put on more weight. She didn’t have the drive. It didn’t seem like she grabbed hold of it with both hands and say ‘This is my chance’.”


Rather than Mitchell’s career-flop being down to bad management or a lack of interest in the music she produced, her size gave her away as weak-willed and incompetent. If she can’t cut the calories, has she really got the grit to make it in the music industry? Here, Jones reiterates the mainstream narrative surrounding fat and femininity; fat women are out of control, lazy, gluttonous and untrustworthy. As Cooper notes, the fat woman is “not willing to commit to change or live up to the dictates of healthy living. She is a compulsive eater, she is hyper-emotional, she is a physical and moral failure” (Cooper, 2016, p.23). For example, the downfall and subsequent re-birth of female singers is often told through a narrative of weight. In 2015, The Daily Mail proclaimed that Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Pink had all ‘triumphed’ in their ‘battle’ with weight ‘problems’ and successively ‘got their bodies back.’ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3096410/How-Britney-Spears-shed-pounds-got-body-Vegas-residency-help-celeb-trainer-Tony-Martinez.html). Another piece claimed that Britney is now able to ‘regain her former glory’ after beating the ‘bulge’, the implication being that Spears’ slimmer figure is a representation of her mental stability.

I do not mean to suggest that Tom Jones is a bad person or even that he had any malice in his comments; he is simply projecting ubiquitous ideas of what it means to perform ‘femininity’ properly. Likewise, Tom works within an industry that reserves sex and sexuality for the thin and heteronormatively beautiful. As a fat woman, Mitchell’s body represents asexuality that can only be viewed as sexual if it is through a comical lens. This is exemplified through characters such as ‘Fat Monica’ in Friends; her attempts to seduce Chandler and her sexuality in general are presented as laughable, deluded and repugnant. If a fat woman attempts to be sexual in a serious way, we are taught to recoil in horror. Remember the ‘cringed-out’ headlines after Britney Spears performed her overtly sexual routine on the MTV music awards with a ‘fat’ body? Recently The Daily Mail reflected on this performance, recounting Britney’s disgust at looking like a ‘fat pig’ and even quoting music mogul Simon Cowell as saying that he ‘wouldn’t have let her on stage’ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-480947/I-looked-like-fat-pig-says-Britney-MTV-fiasco.html). Thus, rather than being considered a success because of their brains and/or talent, women in the limelight (and in general) are continuously stamped with a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ mark based upon the tightness of their abs and thighs.

This association between femininity, fat and failure infects every aspect of women’s lives. Even some feminist activists cannot help but be submissive in the crusade against female fat. For example, Susie Orbach’s work ‘Fat Is A Feminist Issue’ is often held up as one of the best pieces of critical feminist analysis of fat and femininity. Yet Orbach still frames ‘fatness as the problem’, starting the book off by suggesting that self-acceptance may be the key to weight loss. As Cooper observes, weight-loss and a life-long fear of female fat are still being presented as the end goal for women, just in more ‘positive’ terms. Likewise, in ‘Shadows On a Tightrope’ – an anthology of articles and personal stories written by fat women – Mayer notes:

“In gatherings of the highest revolutionary spirit, you will see right-on feminists drinking cans of diet soda to avoid being fat (…)They are locked into that old-time religion promulgated by the eleven-billion-dollar sexist industry that has made the lives of fat women a living hell.” (Schoenfielder & Mayer et al, 1983, p.3).

This example suggests that even in spaces designed for liberation away from the connotations associated with female fat, the fear seeps in and takes over our actions. Here, I do not speak from an objective perspective. Despite considering myself to be a feminist, I understand and am fully complicit in the seductive nature of dieting and exercise culture. Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder what would happen if we took all of our fear and pain caused by these body-based rules and turned them into energy and anger? It would be unstoppable!

For now though, fat women are failures. This is what we are told and this is what we tell ourselves. This is why young women pull at their stomachs and prod at their thighs when they are getting ready for a night out, sighing and saying “I wish I could get rid of this bit.” This is why so many women that I know drink black coffee instead of eating dinner, exercise until exhaustion, shy away from cameras and cringe if they have to buy clothes above a Size 8. This is why we consider fat to be a feeling, with the implication being that we feel ugly and undesirable. This is why we view these actions as normal, even as expected, in women. Yet, if fat represents failure, is this type of behaviour really what we consider to be a success?


Work cited:

(Cooper, C., 2016.) Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement. London. HammerOn Press.

(Schoenfielder, L. and Wieser, B., 1983.) Shadow on a tightrope: Writings by women on fat oppression. Glasgow. Rotunda Press.

2020 vision

Liam O’Farrell



I got my eyes tested recently and they said I have 20:20 vision and I thought “what a great way to start a poem!” So here goes…


It’s 2020 and the world is aflame.
President Trump and his faithful sidekick, Nigel Farage
are bunkered down in an air raid shelter,
lords of all they survey:
the charred remains of Anglo-American society
riven by riots and rancour and the mutually assured revenge strikes of Russian nukes raining from the sky.
There’s no more Beijing and Brussels is long gone.
The two men embrace – they’re finally alone


Or it’s 2020 and the world is much the same.
Trump was a fart. A load of hot air
who really might as well have been the Hindenburg.
Amidst scandal and outrage and protests on the streets
this demi-despot returns to nightly to his lonely, lofty reverie.
The muttering retreats
of restless nights booed in the atria of expensive hotels
and of caviar restaurants and oyster shells
This American Psycho keels over one night at dinner
and just like Stalin’s doctor before him, the presidential physician hesitates for a moment too long to touch the great man
and the Trumpian moment is… Gone with the wind.


I don’t really know if either vision of the future is more comforting.
But how could we justify worldviews framed around our nemeses
if in the place of our banished liberal elites
who unwittingly created caliphates around distant oases
these new fascists turn out to be rather… competent? What then?
What if we find out that the world is really rather smitten by a leader
who wants to grab us all by the pussy?


Now, I’ll stop the polemicising for a sec and get one thing straight:
if you’re black or you’re trans or you’re a woman or you’re gay,
if we don’t organise, we could be in for a rocky ride.
The painful reassertion of nation-states in liberalism’s approaching night
Shows the notion that they were vanishing from view was misplaced all along.
Colin Hay says the only thing that was in terminal decline
is how much we expected from the human slime we call politicians
How about the economists too? And the consultants – oh my god, the fucking consultants
People with too much capital, too much power, and too little pity
have disembowelled our welfare states.


We rightly fixate on the racism and misogyny of our societies but another point is obscured:
what we are seeing is a corporate power grab sold as globalisation
to make us feel more cultured.
Let’s unpack how the darkened alleyway our societies have been dragged into and mugged
is being marketed as an up-and-coming street to modernity – after it’s been socially cleansed.
Per Hammarlund calls the hyperglobalists no less than the high priests of neoliberalism
The eroding middle class, social mobility in reverse, the sound of a drawbridge being slammed shut the perverse concentration of wealth and power in the wrinkled hands of dusty white men
The cauldron of anger boils over with protest voting to try to dislodge them.


But I do have to ask: what offends you about protest voting anyway?
‘Why did you vote out?’ The Guardian cries
‘Why did you vote out? Did you believe BoJo’s lies?’
Outcast out voter, when you open your mouth,
do flat northern vowels or long Midlands G’s or Essex glo’als fall out?
Do you read the Sun? Where you come from
is there even anywhere to pick up sushi on the way home?
When you drive through the city do you feel your pulse quicken
does every dark cirrus of burqa-clad women
make your blood pressure rise, just for a minute?


Do you fill your brain with reality TV to banish away another day in a dead-end job
if you even have a job at all? Is that why you voted out?
Do you understand the issues, or do you just get pissed on bad wine?
Have you ever been to Iceland?
No, I – I don’t mean the shop.
Do you think the Poles have come for your job?
Do you stuff biryani into your chubby little gob
while muttering how the country you come from is long gone?
Do you go on holiday in Costa del Sol?
Is Match of the Day your favourite show?
Does an England flag hang from your window?
Do you know you know less than you think that you know
Do you build walls to our windmills as the winds of change blow?


Now that Guardian op-ed was a tad overdone, but I do have something serious to say:
as we intellectually masturbate, the world as we know it is being cast away;
let me explain. I feel like so-called globalisation’s embrace is a fatal bearhug.
Prem Shankhar Jha calls this age the twilight of the nation state. Sounds peaceful, right?
But it’s more of a violent heart attack of the international order,
and with every liberal free trade no tariff barrier promulgation
people are gasping for breath.
Our people! Who in this room has ever been to Oldham, or Clacton, or Hull?
Who feels more at home in Berlin or Paris than they would in the rough parts of their own city?
Where are the intellectuals engaging with the underclass?
People who are “tired of experts” and have said fuck you, fuck your degree and fuck the way
you think you’re better than us since you moved away, you effete bastard.
Our people again.


I’m not being funny, because it really isn’t
but most of us in this room are destined to uphold the unfair society we have a stake in
in this room, we are all legitimately functioning members of the bourgeoisie
and unless we’ve got a dealer, how much do we engage
with the crime and the poverty of this city?
At this point I should probably clear up what I’m saying:
I believe minorities should be protected but I believe the poor are the most oppressed of all
I also believe that communities need to be able to communicate
I was shocked Clinton lost. I favour independence for the Scots. I voted for Brexit.


You’ve probably heard someone say that out voters are uneducated
Okay. You can hold the failings of an education system that entrenches privilege
Against those very people in the underfunded crumbling schools staffed by demoralised teachers. If you want.


You hear it a lot that out voters are afraid, and maybe that’s right
fear is xenophobia’s natural price
but maybe the towns they call home going into decline
is a good and proper reason to be kept awake at night.
Maybe they hate the selectively gentrifying middle classes,
the hipsters and management consultants
pricing them out of their homes, outsourcing their jobs, and robbing them of their voices
Maybe we should be, in a way, heartened by popular anger.
If Goldman Sachs’s vampire squid sucking dry the Black Country, or the Welsh Valleys, was accepted without a fight
What would that say about people’s belief in their agency to create change?


And for what it’s worth, I don’t think that identikit town centres with a Costa and a Primark and other global brands
Is enough recompense when a nation of people wants its self-worth back
You might retort that nations are imagined. An artificial group
That’s cool, I’ve read Benedict Anderson too. But your house is artificial and you probably quite like that, don’t you?


Tétreault and Lipschutz contend that the emergence of corporations, many with economies larger than countries and the capacity for violence creates legitimate challengers to the state monopoly of power.
The swollen bodies of these corporations weigh too heavily on the old foundations of our societies
and the social contracts we had are sinking into the mud
just as the palaces of Venice one day could.


To fight back against those who hold power has always been a radical act.
We know that our privileges and oppressions overlap and we should remember that fact.
I am pissed off that TTIP and CETA would give multinational corporations who pay no tax more rights than me and you.
I care more about people than I care about the EU.
Does the brain drain of southern and eastern Europe’s best and brightest westwards
not fill you with regret?
As a Portuguese lawyer serves your latte
and a Romanian academic drives your Uber
do you literally even care?


Will you open your eyes if I show you photos of the refugees Merkel invited
and then marooned on Greek islands as she prioritised a political project over human lives?
Do you need me to tell you that the troika has drained the Grecian corpse of life,
oblivious to the historical irony of the birthplace of democracy being pushed past the brink
to satisfy the investor demands of German and French banks?


I will admit that the decision to vote for Brexit was an agonising one,
but believe I made the most informed decision I could at the time
If you care about democracy. If you care about accountability.
How can you be so appalled with people rebelling against authority?
The guillotine of neoliberal shock doctrine goes for the poor:
And that’s woman, man, and everything in between
every antipode against which we construct our identity.
Our economic system is broken. We need a better one
but I hold this truth to be self-evident: the world that we live in shall remain a nationalised one.


Did I just pay to support an anti-abortion film? Nocturnal Animals and Tom Ford’s gender politics

Anonymous contributor

K: ‘Fancy going to the cinema this weekend?’

Me: ‘oo yeah.’

K: ‘What do you want to see?’

Me: ‘Fantastic beasts is out as it will have monsters in it, I do want to see I, Daniel Blake but could do with less social realism, how about Nocturnal Animals?’

K: ‘So we can just look at beautiful people instead? Done. Plus it’s got good reviews.’

And it was with this conversation that my partner and I went to the cinema on a Sunday to escape Trump, Brexit, Farage, Aleppo, and celebrity deathwatch 2016 for a couple of hours. What followed upon exiting the cinema (SPOILER ALERT! do not read on if you want to watch Nocturnal Animals without plot spoilers!!):

K: ‘Did you enjoy that?’

Me: ‘I did, it was scary though, I was surprised by that. Gosh it just played on everyone’s big fears didn’t it? Rape, isolation, protecting the ones you love. And why do you think he didn’t turn up at the end? And do you think what happened in the book happened?’

K: ‘He was never going to turn up and no, I thought the whole events in the book were an allegory for her aborting his child. He lost a child and partner in his real life, he loses a child and partner in the book he writes. He feels brutalised so decides to brutalise her by writing the book.’

SH: ‘Bloody hell, you’re right, but aborting a child is not equivalent to the brutal rape and murder of a child, how is it I never get films?!’

K: ‘Oh really, I thought it was obvious. Did you not get the big ‘REVENGE’ painting placement as a signpost?’

Me: ‘Er. No. What do you fancy for dinner?’

Two days later and I am no longer thinking about my dinner but still thinking about Nocturnal Animals. Here are the good bits about the film: it is beautifully shot, really well acted (even Jake Gyllenhaal who I’ve always thought was a bit over-rated), and sustains the suspense and nerves the whole way through. Michael Shannon is great in it. As the dialogue above suggests, I left the cinema thinking it was a good film, not what I expected, but a good film. However after my partner pointed out the obvious I am struck by the possibility that I just paid to watch an anti-abortion film set in the US at the very time women’s reproductive rights in the US are being threatened.

My reading of the film is it suggests the kidnap, rape and murder of a man’s wife and child and his subsequent revenge is equivalent to the separation of a man from his partner and her termination of an unwanted pregnancy that he does not know about. The character Edward lives the latter and writes a book of the former that he then dedicates to the partner who aborted his child. The subtext is woman brutalises man by leaving him and aborting his child, so he brutalises her by telling the story of the loss of a wife and child in the most terrifying, fearful and emotive way possible. My reading of the film is it suggests that the termination of a pregnancy is equivalent to the rape and murder of a teenager. Nocturnal Animals is an anti-abortion film.

Given this is quite a strong statement, I looked at some reviews of the film. All reviews mention revenge and terror. Some reviews muse on the point Tom Ford is trying to make. But none reflect on the way in which the film suggests equivalence to the two main narratives of the film and the purpose of the revenge. Perhaps unsurprisingly none of the reviews speak to the abortion because it is a major plot spoiler (sorry readers) but there is no reflection on the equivalence of the two major events the plot is organised around. Film critics have praised the film and given it all the stars; feminist blogs such as Jezebel have criticised it for the focus on aesthetics over content, but no mention of the big A.

To make a film that provokes a direct comparison between rape and murder of a teenager with the termination of a pregnancy, at a time when reproductive rights are being challenging in the US, is deeply concerning. The cinematography and suspense deserves the praise it’s getting, but this to me is not enough to buy the silence of critics over a pertinent political issue. Either I have completely missed the point (entirely possible, as the above dialogue suggests), all film critics are anti-abortion (unlikely), or no-one is calling this problematic element out. Tom Ford stresses the importance of aesthetics, but as he no doubt knows all too well, aesthetics intersect with politics to shock, traumatise, and transcend. In Nocturnal Animals, Ford uses aesthetics to frame abortion as a brutal act against the male that makes the audience engage with the act as equivalent to the rape and murder of a teenage child. Ford has used aesthetics to produce the anti-abortion film of 2016.