A celebration of women in tertiary education was held between the 12th and the 19th of August on campus at the ANU and around other ACT universities. The events were a part of a national initiative of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) to celebrate women in tertiary education through Bluestocking Week, held annually at universities around the country.
Events at the ANU included an afternoon tea at Vivaldi’s, a luncheon at the Wig and Pen, and Friday evening drinks in Fellow’s Bar. They were also co-organised by PARSA.
Speaking at Wednesday’s afternoon tea event, the ACT Representative of the NTEU Cathy Day said that the week was aimed at helping women to network with one another, as well as a celebration “of how we’ve changed since […] the old day of Bluestockings.”
She said that particularly for women who are working in male-dominated academic fields, “just meeting other women who are in the same sector and talking to the about their experiences […] can also be quite empowering.”
Bluestocking Week is named after the first generation of women to enter into university studies, originating from women’s literary societies in the late 18th Century. Although it was originally used as a pejorative term, it has been embraced as a unifying identity for women in academia and tertiary education for many years.
It is thought that the term originated from the tendency of men who attended the literary societies to wear their everyday blue stockings, rather than the white silken stockings that they would have worn to meetings with other men.
This year the national theme for Bluestocking Week was “A Feminist Agenda,” guiding the discussion into the challenges faced by women in education and how best to combat them. “At the moment people are using the term ‘feminist agenda’ to be […] a pejorative term as well,” said Day, “so what we’re basically saying is ‘you know what? We do actually have an agenda.’”
“It’s not to crush all men or to dominate or to emasculate men, but our agenda is to ensure equality, to ensure that people of every gender, every sexuality [have] the same opportunities. That’s our agenda, and we’re not shying away from it.”
“It’s good that the NTEU is being so bold,” said PARSA President Elect Alyssa Shaw, with member of the PARSA Women’s Steering Committee Wendy Suiter adding; “When has there not been a time when we needed a feminist agenda?”
Issues that were flagged as most affecting women students and academics at the ANU were primarily “everyday sexism,” including “non-overt […] experiences of discrimination or oppression,” as well as certain institutional deficits which disproportionately affect women.
Nathalie Blakely, PARSA Women’s Officer Elect, said that “sexism, whether overt or otherwise- and let’s be frank, it’s usually otherwise- definitely is within academia as well,” adding that “it’s quite cool having a bold statement like [the theme “a feminist agenda”] which just… gets to the point.”Facilities available to women at the ANU include representation through the PARSA and ANUSA Women’s Officers, as well as access to the Rapunzel Room on campus (currently on an opt-in basis for female-identifying students on request).
Shaw also told Woroni of ongoing talks around a specialised sexual assault counsellor on campus. “That is an initiative […] which obviously is going to affect and benefit women over other genders, given the rates of sexual assault that women do experience.”
The NTEU also offers free membership to post-graduate students, and seeks to address issues faced by academics around the country.