Taken from ‘”I’m an Early Career Feminist Academic: Get Me Out of Here?” Encountering and resisting the neoliberal academy’, in Thwaites, R. and Pressland, A. (eds.) (2016). Being an Early Career Feminist Academic: Global Perspectives, Experiences, and Challenges. London: Palgrave.
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Reproduced with kind permission of the editors and publisher.
- Embrace Collectivity and Nurture Allies
Feminists are most powerful as a collective movement. We are stronger and louder together. We must remind ourselves that we are working in academia for the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of equality for all, not for our own career advancement. One of the greatest challenges that feminism has faced – in the academy and across social life – is the rise of neoliberalism and rampant individualism. Collectivity disrupts these forces, providing support networks and helping us to organise against institutional and societal injustices. We must recognise feminism as something you do, not just something you are, thus welcoming and nurturing allies and uniting across intersectionalities rather than pursuing divisive and separatist politics.
We must unite with our feminist colleagues and allies, especially supporting PhD students, in our academic practices – from writing to activism. We need to co-author papers, not only to provide a platform for others but also because we can learn much by working together. We therefore need to create spaces for collaborative and vertical working within our grant applications and module design, bringing in junior colleagues, and not merely clinging to ‘Profs’.
We must also form allegiances outside of academia, including artists, graduates and labour activists such as those campaigning against zero hours contracts and unpaid internships.
- Little Acts of Solidarity Make a Big Difference
Academia can be a lonely place, but it does not need to be. In the spirit of embracing collectivity we also call for embracing little acts of solidarity and everyday gestures of kindness that can contribute to big changes.
If a colleague looks stressed and unhappy, we must talk to them and see if we can help. If we are at a conference and spot a nervous looking postgraduate student, chat to them about their research. When a fellow early career academic gives a paper and is met with silence, be the audience member that asks a helpful question. We should tell newer colleagues what we wish we knew when we were at their stage in our career. We must share our networks with colleagues and students. If we are running events in the community, we must invite colleagues to join us. We can act as mentors to our students; we should encourage their passions.
- Speak Out
Academia is not a level playing field and it is not a meritocracy. The toxic conditions that create such inequality, however powerful, can be challenged. We must stand together to oppose precarious contracts as they are normalised by our institutions (especially if ours are indefinite). We must stand up for PhD students who are all too often asked to (over)work as unpaid teachers. We must call out the whiteness and the maleness of academia as it is manifest in institutional boards and other mechanisms of decision- making.
We must be active in creating spaces that foster inclusivity, solidarity and care. We must be vocal in our critique of the REF and emphasise its negative impacts. We can participate in and organise ‘big’ action such as strikes, as well as ‘cause trouble’ through everyday acts of disquiet and critique. We must also not stay silent when we hear ‘one off’ injustices. In big acts and in little acts we can resist the reproduction of an unfair and unjust system.
We must be aware of the difficulties of ‘resisting’ for those in more precarious positions. Acts of naming and calling out injustice need force behind them; they must be ‘taken strategically and with the support of advocates who carry weight’ (Puwar 2004:155). If we are in positions of power and privilege we must take responsibility to be an advocate for others while remaining mindful that choosing silence itself may be a survival strategy rather than evidence of disempowerment or collusion with oppressive regimes (Parpart 2010).
- Recognise your Power and Privilege
We are fortunate in many ways as feminist academics. Unlike many of our sisters we have the privilege of a platform from which to speak. Some of us are privileged because of our whiteness, our class capital, or by virtue of the institutions we work in. It is vital that we recognise the power and privilege we have, and use it to more egalitarian ends.
We must create spaces for marginalised colleagues to talk. If we are organising conferences we must ensure we provide a platform for those voices too infrequently heard. When we are speaking and writing we must acknowledge and accredit the voices of others. We must ‘take people with us’.
Much consciousness-raising takes place in the classroom (Sowards and Renegar 2004) and so we must be sensitive in our teaching practices, creating opportunities for marginalised people(s) to be heard and valued.
- Self Care is a Must
Feminism needs feminists with the strength to fight. We should strive to live by our principles and politics, but this must not come at the cost of our health and wellbeing. We must extend kindness to ourselves, and we draw inspiration from Audre Lorde (1988) and Sara Ahmed (2014) on the radical possibilities of self-care.
At a time when our politics are so often undermined and demeaned, it could be easy to work ourselves into the ground trying to ‘prove ourselves’ as ‘good enough’ academics as well as ‘proper’ feminists. The feminist ethics of care applies to how we treat ourselves as well as others and we must not beat ourselves up for not taking on every battle. We may be in a position where we would not feel safe, physically or emotionally, to call out the injustices we observe. We may be employed so precariously that ‘rocking the boat’ is too costly. We may be unwell or be too tired to fight. It is not the job of one person to solve the problems of the world: this is what makes the strength of the collective so important.
And have fun!
There are many pleasures of being in academia; have fun!
AHMED, S. (2014) Selfcare as Warfare http://feministkilljoys.com/2014/08/25/selfcare-as-warfare/
LORDE, A. (1988) A Burst of Light, Essays. London: Sheba Feminist Publishers.
PUWAR, N. (2004) Space Invaders: Race, gender and bodies out of place. Oxford: Berg.
SOWARDS, S. and VALERIE, R. (2004) The rhetorical functions of consciousness-raising in third wave feminism. Communication Studies. 55(4). p.535-552.