The more things change…


I’d like to think of myself as fairly well informed about gender issues and the ongoing work there is to be done with workplace equality, repressive cultural norms, and violence against women.

That said, I must admit that in recent times I’ve become quite lazy, and sometimes even dismissive about big-noted ‘Women’s Issues’. I got cynical, bored with detail, and didn’t follow up much in this area any more.

Just yesterday, though, on hearing about these two incidents, I got angry in a way I hadn’t been for a long time:

1. Woman dies after attack at service station

2. Raped girl is set on fire

Of course, these horrific things are happening all the time, and part of my disengagement is from feeling overwhelmed and saturated by the information/outrage. It’s hard, and unconstructive, to be constantly outraged. I need to find better ways to engage with these issues and help make them matter more broadly.

My apathy is all the more dire because I come from a Women’s Studies background in my undergrad studies and higher degrees. I’ve written an Honours thesis that focused on representations of women and the feminine in sci-fi horror and fantasy film, and a Masters thesis that examined Asian Australian women writers and their cultural positioning.

Being scarred by the one and only Australian Women’s Studies conference I’ve attended (god, almost 10 years ago now) may have been the start of my palling interest in Women’s Studies per se. That still very White-dominated forum amazed me; we’re talking the late 1990s/early 2000s here.

The session in which I presented was a bit of a sociopolitical horror movie:

  • An academic in the audience actually made ‘ching chong’ nonsense sounds out of a prominent Chinese scholar’s name. She had the gall to come up to me later and defend it by saying, “No-one knew how to pronounce his name!”. She also told me that she hoped I wasn’t offended by what she’d done because it was all in good fun…seriously, she said this.

  • I was the second of three presenters on the panel. The first speaker was a very established professor in women’s studies. Her new area of research overlapped with mine slightly, and she quoted me (in a negative way) in her paper. Nothing wrong with robust debate except that:

    (a) she mis-quoted me quite badly (and I couldn’t say anything at the time that didn’t sound whiney, lame and protesting too much), and

    (b) she totally butchered my name THEN leaned forward during her paper to say to me, “Is that how you pronounce it?”

I’ve never put a paper in for a women’s studies or feminism conference again. Ever.

I’ve also shuffled away, topic-wise, from gender studies material. I don’t think this was a deliberate effort to get away from it, and just the way things transpired, but it has meant that I’ve been fairly out of touch with feminist politics and reading.

I’ve mulled all this over today, and will be doing something about it – personally and academically. Can’t live with myself, otherwise.


5 thoughts on “The more things change…

  1. e 02/06/2010 / 10:07 am

    >that's *&)(*^&*(&^ i have a friend (chinese) who had a similar experience. she became v. disillusioned. she was around during 2nd wave. i'm so sorry to hear you had such a bad experience. stupid academy…

  2. e 02/06/2010 / 10:16 am

    >holy carrap…i thought you were talking about things that were happening overseas…just clicked on your links.

  3. tseen 03/06/2010 / 2:18 am

    >heya E. – no, the events are right here in our 'backyard' (well, more my backyard than yours!). the level of violence in everyday attacks boggles my mind. the other day, I started reading something about the piss-poor state of women's rights in afghanistan, and I had to stop. but that's not the way to work towards change and a better life for all, right? still wrestling with what a first world do-gooder can achieve in the midst of domestic and professional pressures…as for academia: I suspect there's still a lot of cringe-inducing behaviour going on, whether it's to do with race, gender/sexuality, class, or similar. add that extra-special layer of social awkwardness that often accompanies academics and, well…

  4. e 04/06/2010 / 4:29 am

    >re: 3rd world human rights and 1st world concerned citizen. Raising awareness is a beginning. I really admire a friend of mine who works within academia in human rights/politics arena, and she sees her role not as one on the front line, but to teach/educate those who might go onto do the front line work – foreign correspondents, NGO workers etc.. donating money is also another way of doing something. and being a mother who raises her kids with some awareness of others so they don't grow up thinking its okay to exploit people.I have to admit being the first generation in my family to have equal rights as a woman (1 great grand nan was a slave, 1 grand nan was sold cos she was a girl child and mum raised with some effed up 19th Century trad. Chinese ideas about women), I have a longitudinal view on things at times…and think, well it's not going to happen over night.Bejesus…took us 100 years with steps forward and academy – I suppose for those of us outside the academy (can't total enough hours to consider myself an insider even as a pg student)…we have this idea that it is a "purer" place than other work places. So it's often disappointing to realize that they're human + special layer hehe..Gosh had something else I wanted to say, but the girl one table down is speaking really loudly and my mandarin comprehension is good enough for me to get distracted…

  5. tseen 07/06/2010 / 12:58 am

    >raising awareness is a start. it's when this process is stuck in a repetitive cycle (find ignorance, raise awareness, find ignorance, raise awareness…) that the frustration sets in. while I understand the ongoing, perpetual need for it, I don't necessarily want to be the 'educator' all the time. every time I go to a conference (unless it's an asian australian one), I get good feedback for my presentations along the lines of "it's such an _interesting_ area", which is good but also grr-worthy. it's good because people actually came to listen to me (!) and heard about a different kind of writing/context, and grr-worthy because it's often the 'novelty' factor that makes the impression rather than the argument/context/bigger picture stuff. baby steps, baby steps…yes, donating is a way, and I've been trying to put my money where my politics are for a while now (while also being susceptible to the occasional doorknocking round).re being distracted by other people's conversations in languages other than english? I never have that problem… 😉

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