punk phd / feminism / motherhood

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Guardian - Women

Feminist discussions and awareness of gender issues over at The Guardian just seems to be getting better and better. This week Jessica Valenti published her first column on the female confidence sham and there's also an interesting piece on Everyday Sexism and The Vagenda.

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Tuition Fees: justifications and implications

Since the proposal to raise university tuition fees this topic has been pretty constant in the media. And so it should. It's something which I have always maintained a slight mixed view of, recognising mostly the shortcomings of this change but also some positive aspects. Firstly, I would perhaps be more sympathetic of the rise in tuition fees if such a rise was coupled with changes within HE itself. As far as I can see, the increase in fees has not been coupled with an increase in student experience. Courses are indiscriminately charging the higher end of the fees, regardless of their rating compared with other courses at other universities e.g. universities which rank low in terms of student experience have still charged the same in fees as universities which have ranked higher. It's frustrating when perhaps these universities have made no changes to justify the increase. However, it could be argued they've done so because of the economic climate in HE more generally - that an increase in tuition fees has been to recognise the continuing financial issues suffered by universities. But there seems to be no evidence of this. Even just anecdotally - speaking to those working in HE reveals most believe the financial situation is worse than ever. From what I can see, the government aren't justifying it through such ways either, with the focus being on students making a contribution or 'paying their way'. Now, whether or not I agree with the increase, I take the position that this should not deter students from progressing onto university. I understand the concern about debt and the large amount of debt but I stand my ground on the belief that a tuition fees loan is not like other debt. I've never had someone knocking on my door or letters through the post demanding a payment. And if I don't earn enough, I'm not repaying it and if I don't ever repay it all, I'm not particularly bothered (sounds really flippant, I know). Regardless of how I feel, I can see that students do worry about this. Not all of them, but more than before the increase in fees. So I do believe that the rise in tuition fees might be putting off students from lower economic backgrounds. And that's a major issue for me. It might be suggested that a rise in tuition fees means that a degree becomes less of a rite of passage which most people will go through and that it makes degrees more valuable, decreasing the number of graduates and moves us away from the situation where we have too many graduates for not enough graduate positions. I kinda agree with that. BUT, we'll be moving to a smaller number of graduates with most of these graduates coming from a particular economic (and social) background. The potential held by a number of working-class students who do not progress to university because they're put off by the debt will be wasted. So whilst I can see some value to the rise in tuition fees in HE I think there is a lot more damage done than good. And it's certainly not being justified with the right reasons.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Students and Sex Work

Four hours into a long drive last night we stumbled across Radio 1's programme about student sex workers. What was said to be exploring claims that rising university costs has gone hand-in-hand with an increase in students working in the sex industry, the programme committed a school-kid error (and something a number of my students are guilty of)...it concluded in the introduction. It was pretty clear from the start that the programme was positioning itself with the argument that a rise in tuition fees has been responsible for this employment pattern and what followed focused on money as the driving factor. The programme cited research and so intrigued I did delve a little deeper this morning. In particular there is the The Student Sex Work Project but I also came across a research report from Durham University which considered attitudes towards sex work amongst university students. It was clear from this that financial factors are not perhaps the main reason behind an increase in student sex workers and that there are cultural factors at play. This was completely missing from the Radio 1 programme. Why is it, for example, that students in contemporary society feel that sex work is an acceptable substitute for other part-time employment routes? Why is it that statistics show predominantly it is female students engaging in such work? I'm suggesting an examination of the wider cultural beliefs and practices (as I'm sure others might also), rather than dismissing this as a 'sign of the economic times'.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Transgender in India

Was good to read yesterday that transgender people will now be able to identify themselves as such on official documents in India. Their plight is something I look at with my anthropology students in the context of the socially constructed nature of gender. Unpacking the concept of gender in anthropology, or sociology for that matter, always demonstrates just how deeply embedded particular ideas are in society and amongst my students. Generally students are quite quick to accept when I say that gender is nothing more than a constructed set of beliefs about how we expect females and males to be. But sometimes that acknowledgement is very basic and they will continue to question some suggestions of things being based on gender, rather than sex. Looking at the idea of transgender brings to light their confusions between sex and gender, but their confusion over the association between sex, gender and sexuality. Even though they might understand that some men and women are gay, they seem to not be able to apply this fluidity in sexuality to those that are transgender. They will always ask the question "but if they're trans then do they want to be with men or women?" and on knowing, in the case of Hijras specifically which we look at, that they will have relationships with men there will be a confusion, maybe even slight disgust at this idea. If anything I guess this further supports that gender and sexuality itself is complex. At the very least, I hope unpacking gender in subjects like mine helps the students in beginning to think outside our traditionally held ideas.

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Monday, April 07, 2014

Bad Housekeeping Post - Patriarchy 1, Politics 0 (Radio Raging)

Was rather chuffed last week to have Bad Housekeeping put up my post. The still fairly new online magazine focuses on gender and feminism discussion but features posts from students, postgraduates and academics. Wonderful idea and here's hoping it continues to grow (and thanks again!)

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Friday, April 04, 2014

Up, Up, Up and Away....

There's a few reasons why I look at The Daily Mail web-site from time to time. It is kind of a guilty pleasure and provides some easy reading whilst eating lunch at work. It also provides me with plenty of fuel for the fire. I like something I can moan about. That's just part of who I am (apologies to friends and family but then, in all honesty, remember...you're meant to love me for who I am). So today's edition of the online Mail featured the following headline which caught my eye...

The way the headline is expressed is asking for more criticism of the mother involved. Regardless of what happened before, if a woman wants to lift weights and train post-giving birth why is it the public's business? Clicking on the link, the article itself is actually not that negative - so why insist on presenting it as such in the headline and caption? A number of readers will pick up on that rather than reading the whole, more balanced, piece. Another example of media sensationalising. The media is forever condemning mothers for one thing or another and often it's for things that really are of little significance; whether this is done overtly or more subtly through presentation and style. But then what did I expect?

After my initial rage however, I stumbled across the following piece also linked from the Mail's online front page. Good to see they're not forgetting the important stuff after all.

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