Archive for the ‘Work in Progress’ Category

Pondering new projects

August 1, 2012

Wow, long time, no write!

But not to worry – I haven’t completely abandoned Pondering Postfeminism.

Photograph of a derelict abandoned train carriage.
(abandoned train carriage, image source: redserenade)

There are a number of reasons for the lengthy gap between my posts. Firstly, I suppose I became a little bit sick of pondering postfeminism. Having spent several years writing a thesis on the topic, it is sometimes difficult to summon enthusiasm to keep writing about it.

I also haven’t taught any gender studies for a while, which was a good source of inspiration. Teaching sociology and gender was a great way to keep me thinking about feminist debates, and helping me discuss them in a straight-forward (and hopefully engaging) way.

Of course, a large reason for my absence has been a distinct case of writer’s block. For the last eighteen months or so, I have found it challenging to write entries for this blog of mine. I suspect that the primary cause was the fact that I’d begun to include the URL on my resume. In applying for academic jobs and grants, I’d mention this blog as evidence that I have the ability to engage with the public – something that is an increasingly important part of an academic’s job. The downside to this, though, was that I then imagined the audience of my blog to be potential employers. Every word had to be perfect and every post needed to be a dissertation-quality argument. Hardly conducive to productive and carefree writing!

So, they are my excuses.

My final reason is a much more exciting one. I am now a mother! My daughter was born in June, so I am in the early stages of first-time parenthood. It’s certainly a rollercoaster ride. It’s amazing and challenging and beautiful and exhausting and life-changing… and well, there aren’t really enough words to describe all my recent mothering experiences.

I am considering turning this blog into a bit of a motherhood/feminist blog – Pondering Post(natal)feminism?! – but I’m not sure at this stage. There are so many mummy bloggers out there, I’m not sure what my contribution would be. Perhaps I’ll just continue with similar themes as before. I like the idea of a mini-project to get me writing again, even if it’s once a week or fortnight.

My one idea at the moment is to write a series of critiques of advertisements that target mothers. I’ve been watching quite a bit of television in recent weeks (couch time while breastfeeding!) and there are so many questionable ads regarding women’s roles and women’s lives. I’m inspired by the very clever and very funny series of videos by US comedian called Sarah Haskins.

She challenges the sexism of television advertising in America. Watch some of her clips – they’re fantastic!

One of my favourites is this one about the way advertising markets yoghurt to women:

I thought I might pick an advertisement from Australian TV to pull-apart each week. It won’t be an amusing Haskins-esque video, but hopefully it will get me writing again.

I’m also open to suggestions about what this blog should be about and what projects I could start. Comment below!


Precarious employment in academia

December 15, 2011

sandstone university building with jacaranda

A large proportion of staff employed at Australia’s universities experience high levels of job insecurity and poor working conditions. Anyone who has ever been employed as a sessional/casual/contracted teacher or researcher will be familiar with some or all of the following stories: Not being paid for marking or attending lectures, nor compensated for hours spent replying to student emails. Having wages cut if a class is missed due to illness. Filling out fiddly casual timesheets in order to get paid. Little or no access to professional development. Short contracts with no long-term stability. Wages that fluctuate week to week. No access to a desk or computer facilities. Exclusion from staff meetings and decision-making processes. And the list goes on…

These kinds of stories differ depending on departmental and institutional contexts, but the overarching picture emerging about the casual workforce is one of dissatisfaction and uncertainty. And the proportion of casual academic staff is increasing. Sessional and casual employees make up the bulk of the academic workforce. A new study by Robyn May (2011) uses superannuation records from Unisuper to estimate that casual staff comprise 60 per cent of the academic workforce. The casual labour market is also highly gendered, with 57% of casual staff being women (May 2011: 6).

A recent study (Bexley et al. 2011) investigating the attitudes of academic employees points to some of the problems facing the Australian university workforce. The study received responses from over 5,500 university employees, including session and casual staff, across 20 Australian universities. While there isn’t the space here to outline all their key findings, here are a few of them:

  • Less than one third of academics believe their workload is manageable.
  • “60 per cent of early career staff are dissatisfied with their job security compared with less than one quarter of late career staff” (Bexley et al. 2011: xi).
  • “Close to 40 per cent of academics under 30 years of age plan to leave Australian higher education in the next five to ten years, with 13 to 18 per cent intending to leave in the immediate future.” (Bexley et al. 2011: xii).
  • Short-term and casual academics are typically assumed to be postgraduate students, however this is not the case: many “are already PhD qualified, and many work in roles that are ongoing in all but name. Nor are they predominantly young people, who may expect a period of insecure employment before moving into more permanent positions. Over half are aged over 40, and are therefore likely to have families and other adult responsibilities” (Bexley et al. 2011: 43).

    As May points out, the increasingly casualised workforce in Australian universities must be seen in the “context of wider economic, regulatory and labour market changes that have taken place over the last three decades” (May 2011: 2). While academia is certainly not the only industry to be affected by casualisation, the reported levels of dissatisfaction about working conditions is something that needs to be addressed. There are no easy answers to these difficult dilemmas. Improved funding for the higher education sector would help, but we also need to see institutional and structural changes to ensure fair working conditions for all university employees.

    Bexley, E. James, R. and Arkoudis, S. (2011) “The Australian academic profession in transition: Addressing the challenge of reconceptualising academic work and regenerating the academic workforce”, CSHE, Centre for the Study of Higher Education, report prepared for DEEWR.

    May, R. (2011) “Casualisation here to stay? The modern university and its divided workforce”, in Markey, R (Ed.), Dialogue Downunder, Refereed Proceedings of the 25th Conference of AIRAANZ. Auckland (available from:

    Further reading:

    [Casual, sessional and contract staff reading this may be interested in sharing their work stories with the inquiry into insecure work in Australia, currently calling for submissions:]

    Call for Submissions: 42nd Down Under Feminists’ Carnival

    October 4, 2011

    Down Under Feminists' Carnival logo

    Submit posts here!

    Pondering Postfeminism is going to be hosting the 42nd Down Under Feminists’ Carnival. The carnival is a monthly collection and celebration of blog posts of feminist interest from around Australia and New Zealand.

    Topics include, but are not limited to, class, family, race, reproductive rights, disability, politics, the body, sex, reviews, media, violence and so on.

    To share a feminist blog post by an Australian or New Zealand author during the month of October, please submit it to the carnival by clicking here or by emailing me at: drpen.robinson AT

    For more information check out the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival website.

    Get writing, get reading, and start submitting!

    Submit posts here!

    Yoof revolution and the Doc Martens boot

    March 7, 2011

    (Docs image from redserenade's flickr)
    [image source]

    Long time, no write. I’ve been away for a variety of reasons but I really should get back to writing here regularly.

    It’s International Women’s Day tomorrow, so there’s an awful lot I could write about regarding the state of feminism. However, I’m currently researching and writing a short piece about Dr. Martens boots (strangely enough, in relation to feminism), and I’m on a deadline, so I can’t blog much at the moment.

    Just quickly, though, in the spirit of revolution, I want to share a video with you. I found it via the Dr. Martens website – so in many ways it is marketing material. But it actually traces the history of Docs in a really cool way. It’s a fantastic brief history of youth counter-cultures (working class, skinhead, punk, grunge, etc) over the last 50 years.

    Check it out! (Runs for about 9 minutes):

    Pondering feminist identification

    March 5, 2010

    [image source: lism.’s flickr]

    In a recent post at Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, Rachel Hills asks why feminism still has such a bad reputation: “You say ‘feminist’ like it’s a bad thing”

    Hills writes:

    As an older teenager and young adult, it became interesting to me because it provided a social and cultural framework through which I could make sense of my experiences, and the experiences of the people around me. These days, feminism and other intersectionalist discussions around gender, race, sexuality, class and disability, provide the building blocks to think about what it means to lead an ethical life.

    But while I’ve never been uncomfortable with identifying myself as a feminist, I have found myself growing uncomfortable with other people identifying me as such. Mostly because they so often say it like it’s a bad thing – like it makes me silly, or ideologically rigid, or batshit insane. They turn what to me says “yes, I’m interested in gender from a critical perspective” and “no, I’m not an asshole”, into an insult.

    Georgina Isbister in a piece in the National Times in December last year, wrote “Feminism is not a dirty word”

    Isbister writes:

    The denial of feminist identification seems to be based not in resistance to feminism’s goals of gender equality, but in the replication of outdated and exaggerated feminist stereotypes. What I find when I gently scratch the surface of these stereotypical assumptions is that most of my students, both female and male, support gender equality. Actually, they demand it.

    I found similar things in my interviews with young women. Often their first response to feminism was to talk about the widely perpetuated negative stereotypes about feminists, but once they got talking about issues that feminism deals with, many acknowledged that their beliefs were feminist.

    As I wrote in the comments on Rachel Hills’ post:

    One thing I found that makes a difference in terms of feminist identification is how someone defines feminism. If you define it as a belief system (eg. a belief in gender equality) then you are more likely to say you’re a feminist than if you define it as activism. I spoke to quite a few women who said they believed in feminist ideals but were hesitant to call themselves feminists because they weren’t actively involved in fighting for women’s rights. One participant gave a great analogy…She said she cares about the environment, but wouldn’t call herself an environmentalist because she doesn’t go out and chain herself to trees, and so on.

    Interestingly, I got different responses to the questions, “what do you think of when you hear the word feminist”, compared with “how do you define feminism?”. The former elicited many more of the negative stereotypes about feminism (man-hating, hairy armpits/legs, angry, humourless – which interestingly most recognised as media stereotypes), whereas the latter allowed the women to describe what they thought feminism means. Once they got talking about it, many were more likely to switch from ambivalnece to saying “Actually, I suppose I am a feminist really”.

    Only a couple of my participants were openly hostile to feminism (it’s likely that my recruitment posters which mentioned ‘feminism’ attracted participants who were symathetic towards feminism) and this was because they blamed feminism for women having to do everything – have a full time job and then come home and still do all the childcare and housework.

    I’ve written lots about this topic. Not surprising since I wrote my thesis on it! I’ll leave it there for now, but I’ll share more of my thesis findings soon, especially since I have a journal article in the works based on this aspect of my research.

    What about you? Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

    Super women and the changing face of feminism

    February 17, 2010

    Samantha Stevens, the lead character in the 1960s sitcom, Bewitched, is a woman with special powers – a witch who can make anything happen with a slight twitch of her nose. She first appeared on television just as the first rumblings of second wave feminism were being felt. Samantha symbolised the ideal suburban housewife, and on the surface Bewitched is not a particularly feminist programme. Her powers are mostly restricted to the private world of the home because of a promise made to her husband, Darrin. However, Samantha had powers to disrupt the male world, to break free of domestic constraints and influence the public sphere. While second wave feminism was emerging, a time when women were beginning to realise that they could be more than housewives, Samantha’s supernatural abilities hinted at women’s potential beyond housework and child-rearing.

    The programme first screened in the US the same year Betty Friedan’s influential feminist text, Feminine Mystique became a best seller. This famous book, which became emblematic of second wave feminism, uncovered what Friedan called “the problem with no name”. It articulated the stifling and oppressive conditions experienced by many housewives in the mid-twentieth century. Susan Douglas argues that within this context of emerging feminist agitation, new kinds of female characters arrived on television – women with special powers – a witch, a genie and a flying nun. Furthermore, she proposes that these new representations of women suggest that

    “the pop culture moguls were trying to acknowledge the impending release of female sexual and political energy, while keeping it all safely in a straitjacket.”
    (Douglas 1994: 126)

    Bewitched highlights a defining moment in the history of women. Early second wave feminists vocalised women’s sense of oppression as housewives and sought the path towards autonomous selfhood. For example, Johnson and Lloyd (2004: 14-15) suggest that Betty Friedan “drew on a familiar trope of modernity in which the modern self leaves behind the banality or everydayness of home life to become such as self”. This narrative of the journey from suppressed housewife to liberated, self-governing individual became one of the key themes of the second wave.

    Samantha was representative of suburban domestic ideals. However, at a time when women were beginning to have their horizons broadened, Samantha’s supernatural abilities conjured up the promise of women’s liberation and the unleashing of female power that was to come.

    Fast forward thirty years and another young woman with super powers appears on television. This time she is not a witch, nor a housewife. Instead, she is a teenaged girl, the “Chosen One”, the Slayer. Her duty is to slay vampires and save the world from evil. Samantha’s life revolved around the domestic sphere – the daily tasks of a suburban wife, who must try to suppress her powers and do things the normal – mortal – way. Buffy’s life on the other hand, revolves around the world of the immortal.

    Buffy uses her powers to protect society from vampires, demons and the occasional apocalypse. While a proportion of the storylines are centred on her personal and family relationships, the major focus of the show is her ‘slaying’ work, performed in public at night. Buffy exemplifies how women’s roles have shifted.

    Coming of age in the wake of the successes of second wave feminism, many young women take equality and career opportunities for granted. This is something I found in my thesis research. A belief in the basic tenets of feminism is almost goes without saying because they have never known anything different. As prominent third wave authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (2000) proclaim,

    “for our generation, feminism is like fluoride. We scarcely notice that we have it – it’s simply in the water”
    (2000: 17)

    The emergence of what has been called a new ‘wave’ was paralleled by the publication of several books in the 1990s, claiming to be the voice of the next feminist generation. Although I am cautious about assigning labels, some salient themes of the third wave are its embrace of ambiguity and contradiction; a concern with celebrating femininity; and a focus on difference and diversity.

    It is within this context that ‘girl-power’ shows like Buffy materialised. In contrast with the 1960s representation of super-woman as homemaker, the 1990s female hero is empowered, independent and courageous. Buffy is an icon of a time when women have grown up feeling they can do anything. Today’s young women do not feel confined to the domestic sphere as women who grew up watching Bewitched may have.

    As Susan Hopkins suggests in her book Girl Heroes,

    “if the popular culture texts of previous decades taught girls to sacrifice their own interests for the good of husband and child, contemporary pop culture prepares girls for a future of action and independence”
    (Hopkins, 2002: 176)

    Buffy’s confidence and autonomy reflect the way today’s young women feel about themselves. Buffy portrays and promotes the ideal of the confident, empowered young woman, while at the same time exploring some of the darker aspects of postmodern life. Despite the opportunities available to today’s generation of young women, as Buffy highlights, there are still some patriarchal demons to slay.

    The critique of patriarchy is a constant theme in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy’s feminist credentials can be seen throughout the series. It is the final season of Buffy that is the most blatantly feminist because of its portrayal of collective action against an overtly misogynistic demon. Buffy rounds up an army of “Potential Slayers” from around the globe and the biggest evil they face takes the shape of a preacher named Caleb.

    As Pender puts it, Caleb “is a monstrous but familiar representative of patriarchal oppression propounding a dangerous form of sexism under the cover of pastoral care” (2004: 168). This season indicates the strength of Buffy’s feminist convictions and highlights another element of the third wave – diversity. At the end of the final episode, we are shown a montage of clips from around the world as young women everywhere take up the power and fight back against their oppressors. In transferring Buffy’s power to “a heterogeneous group of women from different national, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds Buffy’s final season addresses…the issue of cultural diversity that has been at the forefront of third-wave feminist theorising” (Pender 2004: 170). The transmission of Buffy’s superpowers to young women around the globe underscores the third wave’s critique of second wave feminism as a predominantly white, middle-class endeavour. More significantly, it suggests feminist possibilities for the future.

    In assembling a force made up of women from every corner of the earth, what the final season of Buffy hints at is the potential of a feminism that acknowledges and celebrates women’s differences, but does not preclude the possibility of a collective project. When Buffy defiantly declares, “Every girl who can stand up will stand up. Every girl who can fight will fight”, she conjures up the image of a universal battle against patriarchal injustices.


    Baumgardner, Jennifer, & Richards, Amy. (2000). Manifesta: Young women, feminism and the future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Hopkins, Susan. (2002). Girl Heroes: The New Force in Popular Culture. Sydney: Pluto Press Australia.

    Johnson, Lesley, & Lloyd, Justine. (2004). Sentenced to Everyday Life: Feminism and the Housewife. Oxford & New York: Berg.

    Miller, Jessica Prata. (2003). “The I in Team”: Buffy and Feminist Ethics. In James B. South (Ed.), Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. Illinois: Open Court Publishing.

    Pender, Patricia. (2002). “I’m Buffy and You’re…History”: The Postmodern Politics of Buffy. In Rhonda V. Wilcox & David Lavery (Eds.), Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Lanham, Maryland: Rowan and Littlefield.

    NOTE: I can’t remember where I found the images included in this post. If I’m breaking some kind of copyright, please let me know and I’ll rectify. Thanks.