Room for Confidence: Early Career Feminists in the English Department

Helena Goodwyn and Emily Jane Hogg

In 2011, at a conference entitled, ‘Women and Leadership—Closing the Gender Gap’, held at Oxford Brookes University, a young woman raised her hand and asked, ‘Am I allowed to be angry?’ The question sent a ripple around the auditorium. Was it that this woman asked a question formed in ‘the red light of emotion and not in the white light of truth’ that so exercised the surrounding audience members (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 27)? Or was it that she asked permission? According to Sara Ahmed, ‘historically, the reading of feminism as a form of anger allows the dismissal of feminist claims, even when the anger is a reasonable response to social injustice’ (Ahmed 2004, p. 177); and I often get the sense that, regarding women’s place in the contemporary university, angry is the one thing I’m not allowed to be. But I am often angry.

I’m angry that only 22% of Professors and 17% of Vice-Chancellors in the United Kingdom are women and that they make up only 32% of boards of governing bodies of UK higher education institutions. I’m angry that, according to the Equality Challenge Unit, in 2013, 15% of white male academics were professors, compared to 2.8% of female BME (black and minority ethnic) academics (ECU 2013). A total of 3.3% of

H. Goodwyn (H) • E.J. Hogg (H)

Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK © The Author(s) 2017

R. Thwaites, A. Pressland (eds.), Being an Early Career Feminist Academic, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-54325-7_5

the UK population is black, compared to only 1.1% of academic staff (ECU 2013). A recent survey by the Runnymede Trust found that there are only 17 black female professors in UK universities (Runnymede Trust 2015). I’m angry that the UK academic workforce is 92.3% white (ECU 2015).

I’m angry that in April, 2015, two female researchers, writing about the gender gap in PhD-to-postdoctoral transitions, received a peer review that suggested their study needed ‘one or two male biologists [...] in order to serve as a possible check against interpretations that may sometimes be drifting too far away from empirical evidence into ideologically biased assumptions’ (Feltman 2015). I’m angry that, also in 2015 (and the two preceding years), at the Renaissance Society of America (RSA) conference, there have been 13 plenary addresses but only one delivered by a woman, despite the fact that two of the three plenary sessions at the RSA annual meeting are named after distinguished female scholars (Howard 2015).1

I’m angry that studies conducted in the United States point out that women who have children are 29% less likely than women without them to reach tenure-track positions and that young women scientists leave academia in higher numbers than men because they develop a sense, during their PhDs, that the ‘impediments’ they’ll come up against in trying to enter academia are ‘disproportionate’ in comparison to other career paths, and that ‘the sacrifices they will have to make are great’ (Rice 2012). I’m angry that men are still seen as ‘ideal workers’, ‘able to devote all their time, energy, and weekends to research’ (Kittelstrom 2010) and that women who have children whilst working for their PhD are accused of not taking their research seriously enough (Anonymous 2015).

This chapter explores the role of anger and its potential as a productive force able to develop the early career academic’s confidence. It focuses in particular on the position of women in my own chosen field, English Studies. Some now say that the ‘pipeline problem’ in the discipline is obsolete. In the United Kingdom, in the 2008/2009 academic year, 73% of undergraduate and 71% of Master’s students in English Studies were women (BPA 2011). In the same year, women made up 61% of PhD students in the subject: this is clear evidence that the leak still exists and accelerates after Master’s study. One can be too alarmist here: the gender disparities in other disciplines—notably science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects—are far greater and a cause for significant concern. And yet, where undergraduate English is dominated by women, the further you progress in the subject, the fewer women there are. The diminishing numbers of women are indicative of experiences the statistics do not convey. In seemingly mundane, everyday ways, existing modes of exclusion are re-entrenched in the early career period in academia, and I argue that these are closely related to the conditions of the contemporary research environment.

The title of this collection is Being an Early Career Feminist Academic in a Changing Academy and I consider the term ‘early career’ to include the PhD period. Perhaps this is presumptuous. The position of the PhD student in many English departments is a liminal one; the UK academy is of two minds about how to treat the PhD student of today.2 In research and teaching practice, as a PhD student, one is made to feel (at the most encouraging institutions) like a member of the academic community and a member of staff, but one’s status as a student is ever-present. In ‘The Public Sphere and Worldliness’ (2015) Nigel Wood writes that the expectations for doctoral projects have significantly shifted from ‘a contribution to knowledge’ to that which ‘might be reasonably expected from four or so years’ worth of full-time study’. He adds, ‘one now submits more with an eye on the clock than on any totally satisfactory sense of completion’, because institutions are now monitored according to ‘progression and completion statistics’ (p. 55). The perception that the PhD is a time of purely concentrated research no longer fits with the model of increasing professionalization, and the term ‘ candidate’ is much more accurate than we might have heretofore considered: the PhD student today attempts to balance her research against a plethora of other activities in a bid to be judged worthy of entrance to the academy. She organises seminar series and conferences; teaches undergraduates and sometimes Master’s students; publishes; manages blogs, social media feeds and networks; presents conference papers; writes book reviews and applies for research grants. From the Master’s programme to the PhD is where the acceleration towards professionalization now takes place; however, significantly, it is also where the pipeline begins its accelerated leak of women academics. Embodying a feminist politics in the classroom and in one’s research practices whilst in this transitional stage is fraught with anxieties and concerns. The demands placed upon early career researchers mean that there is often a sense in which institutional expectations are high and yet belonging within the institution feels shaky and insecure. The very act of adhering to a view of the PhD student as somewhere in-between student and academic might be enough to prevent oneself from developing the necessary confidence that completing a doctorate and entry to the academy requires.

My reflections on how the conditions of the contemporary environment in the English Department might be productively critiqued through identification as a feminist early career academic will be focused here through the lens of reading and teaching Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own, originally delivered as a speech at Girton and Newnham colleges, Cambridge. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf comes to realize that anger—‘an element of heat’ (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 26)—is present in all the male-authored texts she consults in her search for how to address the subject of ‘women and fiction’ (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 1). This leads Woolf to the conclusion that what one might interpret as anger in the work of Professor X, Y or Z is in fact a hotly defended assertion of superiority. Because, Woolf writes—

Life for both sexes—and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement—is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to one self (Woolf 1929 [2001], pp. 28, 29).

Woolf’s argument gives no alternatives for how to generate confidence, other than the assertion of superiority over others. So how are we to generate the essential—if we choose to agree with Woolf—confidence in oneself, without encouraging the dangerous and damaging feelings of superiority outlined here? This chapter discusses the relationship between feminist anger and confidence. It considers whether identifying as a feminist in the English department, particularly as a PhD student and early career researcher, can help one to find ways to develop the ‘imponderable’ but ‘invaluable’ confidence Woolf describes, and suggests that the very act of staging feminist critique might be one way in which we can generate the confidence necessary to pursuing our academic careers.

The PhD student and the early career researcher alike share the difficult task of navigating the troubled intersection between financial self-sufficiency and self-confidence in their bids to establish themselves as academics in the English department today. The increasing casualiza- tion of academic work is not politically neutral, but is instead productive of particular types of research and teaching possibilities for some, while entrenching already prevalent patterns of exclusion for others. A Room of One’s Own remains an important text with which to consider such issues because Woolf’s famous conclusion that ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own’ if she is to write, and to think, has lost none of its material importance (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 2).

Woolf addresses her audience in a playful, suggestive and ambiguous way: ‘I propose’, she writes, ‘making use of all the liberties and licenses of a novelist, to tell you the story of the two days that preceded my coming here’, with the intention of thus describing how her views came to be formed (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 2). Although this account is then presented in the first person, Woolf states that ‘“I” is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being’ (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 2). She begins, ‘Here then was I (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please—it is not a matter of any importance) sitting on the banks of a river a week or two ago in fine October weather, lost in thought’ (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 2). Not only is a persona adopted in A Room ofOne’s Own, but the persona’s fluidity and artifice are repeatedly stressed. What we are presented with is a fictionalized ‘I’, and one that is at pains to point out the fictionality of its own construction.

This chapter adopts the ‘I’ persona, partly to draw attention to the artificial confidence with which we construct our academic writing and also as an experiment in co-authorship. According to Toril Moi, Room ‘radically undermine[s] the notion of unitary self, the central concept of Western male humanism’ through ‘what we might now call a “deconstructive” form of writing, one that engages with and thereby exposes the duplicitous nature of discourse’ (Moi 1985, p. 7). This chapter attempts its own form of unitary disruption through the inclusion of a number of voices under the moniker ‘I’.

This chapter also employs ‘I’ to signal a note of caution about its own representational capacities. As Judith Butler argues, ‘the premature insistence on a stable subject of feminism, understood as a seamless category of women, inevitably generates multiple refusals to accept the category [...] by conforming to a requirement of representational politics that feminism articulate a stable subject, feminism thus opens itself to charges of gross misrepresentation’ (Butler 1990, pp. 6-7). The experiences I relate in this chapter are not intended to be representative of ‘all’ women; differently socially situated women, in terms of age, race, social class and numerous other factors, inevitably have different experiences in academia. Neither do I understand these stories to be the worst nor most difficult situations women in higher education face today—in fact, their seeming mundanity is part of the point I seek to make.

Like Woolf, I consider the relationship between money and the mind as gendered, but not only gendered. The current structure of entry into academia risks re-entrenching the most harmful exclusions of British academic life—those based on race, gender, class and disability. There are no explicit rules which prohibit scholars who are black, scholars who are female, scholars with mental health conditions, scholars from ethnic minority backgrounds or scholars who went to comprehensive schools from progressing as early career academics today. However, attention to the subtle yet significant, often minor-seeming and everyday factors (or factors ‘presented’ as everyday, intractable, commonsensical) which function in an exclusionary and limiting way, is a necessary step towards a more inclusive and equitable academy.

How you understand the tone of this chapter informs your interpretation of its content. I began by emphasizing anger despite Woolf’s suggestion that anger and bitterness impact negatively on writing. As Laura Marcus has shown, the position of anger in A Room of One’s Own has been a key locus of debate in feminist evaluations of Woolf’s text, leading critics to ask whether anger can be productive in women’s writing or whether it tends, as Woolf seems at some points to suggest, to betray and undermine the writer (Marcus 2010, pp. 142-179). A Room of One’s Own stages a critique of the distorting effects of ‘anger and bitterness’ on women’s writing, yet it may in fact be the case that sometimes anger is necessary and appropriate to a piece of writing, and that ‘anger and bitterness’ might, in certain contexts, be advisable and useful literary tools.

Sara Ahmed argues that anger is crucial for feminism:

Anger [...] moves us by moving us outwards: while it creates an object, it also is not simply directed against an object, but becomes a response to the world, as such. Feminist anger involves a reading of the world, a reading of how, for example, gender hierarchy is implicated in other forms of power relations, including race, class and sexuality, or how gender norms regulate bodies and spaces (Ahmed 2004, p. 176).

Thus, while my own experiences cannot be understood to represent women’s experiences in general, in enunciating the personal ways in which I have experienced academia as restricting, as angering, what I seek to do is offer a ‘reading’ of its broader structures and power relations.

A Room of One’s Own is a set text in the first-year undergraduate module I have taught a number of times. Recently, I was trying to talk with a student about the elusive speaking voice in the essay, and the way this shapes readings of the text. The student had written an essay which referred all the way through to A Room of One’s Own as ‘a novel’. I suggested to the student that they had identified something important about it—it is not a straightforwardly polemical piece of writing, it works as much through character and the representation of inner life as through argument in the traditional sense—but to refer to the text as a novel seemed to miss something about the text’s self-consciousness, or so I proposed to the student: novels, that is, do not tend to declare that they are ‘making use of all the liberties and licenses of a novelist’ (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 2). I had brought along a copy of Sexual/ Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory and the student and I were considering Moi’s caution that ‘remaining detached from the narrative strategies of Room is equivalent to not reading it at all’ (Moi 1985, p. 3).

At that moment two men we had never met before settled their plastic trays down next to us and began a conversation about a meeting they had attended that morning. My student and I exchanged an awkward glance. Our neighbours began to eat the chicken pies on their trays and, as they did so, our sheet of paper was showered with crumbs of pastry. As we tried to discuss the persona in A Room of One’s Own—or is it more than one persona—they loudly discussed an ongoing debate between two of their other colleagues. Turning, as is my standard practice in moments of teaching-related tension, to a kind of self-deprecating deadpan comedy, I almost-whispered, ‘I know this isn’t the best place to have an office hour’. It wasn’t the best place for an office hour because it was the university canteen; however, the university canteen is often the only option for teaching associates without offices. That student left and the next one arrived, eager to discuss the implicit assumptions about class in Woolf’s discussion of financial freedom. Reflecting on the inheritance from her aunt which provided her with ‘five hundred pounds a year for ever’ (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 30) the speaker in Woolf’s text says ‘my aunt’s legacy unveiled the sky to me, and substituted for the large and imposing figure of a gentleman, which Milton recommended for my perpetual adoration, a view of the open sky’ (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 32). I thought about what Henry James might have to say about the strange form of freedom such a legacy entails; my tablemates began their ice cream. If, as Woolf suggests, financial security makes an irreplaceable contribution to intellectual freedom, then the austerity dominating the current research environment in English Studies might well be having a detrimental impact on early career researchers’ abilities to produce interesting work—or even to help their students to do so.

There is something embarrassing and anxiety-inducing about writing like this, about drawing attention to incidents like the office hour in a cafe. Academia is full of unwritten rules—understood by all but experienced particularly intensely by underrepresented groups—like the one that says if you complain about the rules of the game you’re simply betraying your own insufficient ability to play it. Those who protest the difficulty of finding a job inevitably risk the suspicion of whoever is listening that perhaps the reason the complainer has not found a job is that they are just not talented enough, that their work is not good enough or that they are in the wrong field. To write about the in-between state of the early career academic and the financial, social and, in some cases, health costs of following this career path can sound bitter and angry; nonetheless, this essay, about everyday problems, and about unwritten rules, is a positive one, written in the hope that drawing attention to such issues furthers our understanding of the statistics provided earlier.


It is generally accepted today that most early career researchers will experience a ‘wilderness period’ of two to five years between finishing a PhD and finding a permanent job. There are exceptions, inevitably, but this has become the norm. Temporary jobs in this in-between period are scarce, highly sought-after and vary widely in terms of remuneration and allocation of research time. The conventional wisdom, another unwritten rule—passed in a whispered chain from hiring panels to anxious research- ers—is that to be hired for permanent positions (and even, increasingly, for temporary lectureships), given the demands of the REF3 which place pressures on university departments, a book under contract with a respected academic press is now a minimum requirement. Writing an academic book worth reading without time to consult archives, to read widely, to think deeply—is very difficult. However, the hiring structure in higher education (HE) employment is such that this book—the book that is becoming the prerequisite for the serious consideration of your application—has to be written before you have the job structured precisely to allow this kind of thinking and activity. This is one of the most bewildering and frustrating aspects of the early career academic’s position and one that seems to rely on a now outdated view of the PhD as solely a research project. Doctoral students jump at the chance to teach, not only because it offers remuneration, but because the unwritten rulebook tells them that when it comes to that interview, the one they also need the book contract for, without teaching experience, their application will suffer.

The night before my first day of teaching I felt sick with worry and sure that I would fail in my duty, despite hours of careful planning; conversations with seasoned pedagogues, friends and colleagues; and plenty of research into classroom techniques (particularly important to my research was locating strategies to handle the dreaded and inevitable silence). Walking into the lecture theatre that first day I was immediately struck by a difference between my male and female peers. The female ‘teaching associates’, as we were termed, wore blazers, suit jackets, serious shirts, determined grimaces. My male counterparts wore jeans, T-shirts, affable smiles. I asked my male colleague, ‘Aren’t you afraid you’ll be mistaken for an undergraduate?’ He said he wasn’t worried. Because to him it didn’t matter what he wore. The moment he opened his mouth to address that room of undergraduates, his position as teacher, he felt sure, would be unquestionable. I was annoyed with myself for having agonized over my outfit and yet I knew I needed it (that is, my suit jacket); it made me feel more authoritative. Perhaps I knew ‘that because I was female, I would automatically have to prove my worth’ (Adichie 2014, p. 38).

Some recent research suggests that students give better teaching evaluation reports to male teachers than to their female counterparts (Marcotte 2014), confirming my personal experience and that of my peers. If students are systematically bringing such social prejudices into the classroom, then women are likely to find it more difficult than men to gain respect from students when they are also required to teach without the conventional resources of academic staff—without, as described above, the private offices in which to hold student consultations, plan seminars or mark work. Student feedback can be an important factor in hiring for academic jobs, and so this disparity could affect long-term job prospects. The precarious position of temporary staff within the institution might, in this way, be more detrimental to women than to men.

Where jobs are scarce, connections and networking seem to become ever more important, and early career researchers often feel particularly anxious about the place of networking in their career development. If I do not think that the position of the PhD student quite allows me to qualify as a professional on a career path, then there’s no point in networking;4 but if I believe that attending seminars and conferences (with their attendant social functions) is a form of networking open and appropriate to me as a way of making connections with others who share sympathetic research interests, then maybe I am doing a form of work that will stand me in good stead for my career prospects in years to come. Perhaps if I take on the role of postgraduate representative in a research society I will engage with other researchers, early career and otherwise, and this will feel like a form of networking within more clearly defined, even ‘acceptable’ parameters. Certainly the latter avoids the difficulty of ‘following up’ fledgling connections made at conferences, and the agony of composing an email to an established academic you admire. Maybe I do not want to engage with the idea of ‘networking’ at all. No one wants to be seen as a ‘schmoozer’.

Julia Hobsbawm, the world’s first Professor of Networking at London's Cass Business School, believes networking should be seen as a skill and not one that we should be embarrassed to discuss. Her series of programmes for Radio 4 entitled, Networking Nation (2014) looked at the practice of networking and attitudes towards it. Ian Jack, the Guardian columnist, argues, ‘the idea that you have to know people to advance yourself is not a good idea’ (Jack 2012); but overwhelmingly, the series of programmes presented by Hobsbawm sees networking as one of the most important ‘soft’ skills of the twenty-first century. The ‘pub culture’ of academia, which includes wine receptions, the trip to the pub after a seminar, the celebratory drink after the viva and so on, might be forms of networking some of us look forward to; however, for others, they are alienating. These informal modes of networking are often crucial for forming relationships with full-time academic staff members, relationships that can lead to teaching opportunities and invitations to participate in research activities. For those who do not drink, and for those who cannot afford to regularly spend money on alcohol—as is common during the financially insecure early career period—the drinking-centred nature of relationship-building in the academy can function as a significant barrier to the development of networks.

The attempt to meet fellow researchers and share ideas with colleagues can meet with other difficulties too. Change scenes then: here I am at a conference. Suit jacket and trousers again, but now, heels and lipstick as well. I have survived the first year of my PhD and relaxed a little, enough to feel I can demonstrate some individuality—in my room, that morning, it is individuality, not ‘femininity’. The ‘male gaze’ (Mulvey 1975), I had presumed, did not attend academic conferences. I’d forgotten that even when conforming to the rules of traditional—and traditionally male— professional dress, a suit jacket and trousers, the female body remains an object, its distracting presence usurping any attention one might hope is being paid to one’s research paper. Post-delivery I received two compliments on my appearance and one sexually aggressive insult—or was it a compliment? The National Union of Students (2013) notes that in contemporary university culture ‘the concept of humour or “banter” is often used to minimize the more offensive or damaging aspects of “lad culture”’. In this case, I was so angry I never quite managed to ask in what spirit the comment was intended.


In the final part of this chapter, I turn to consider ways of tackling some of these issues. In particular, I suggest that the history of feminist theory and activism can be drawn into dialogue with contemporary issues in productive ways. In her 1984 book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, bell hooks discusses the difference between ‘feminism as political commitment’ and feminism as ‘identity and lifestyle’:

We could avoid using the phrase “I am a feminist” (a linguistic structure designed to refer to some personal aspect of identity and self-definition) and could state, “I advocate feminism.” [...] A phrase like “I advocate” does not imply the kind of absolutism that is suggested by “I am.” It does not engage us in the either/or dualistic thinking that is the central ideological component of all systems of Domination in Western society. It implies that a choice has been made, that commitment to feminism is an act of will (hooks 1984, pp. 30-31).

In the one week a term I teach feminist theory to a room of first-year undergraduates I have sometimes asked, ‘Who in this room considers themselves to be a feminist?’ This is often met with a mixed response, some unease and even, on one memorable occasion, dramatic eye rolling. Those who do not raise their hands take issue with the term, complaining of its outdatedness or negative connotations. So instead of asking our students to identify as feminists, taking part in the simple act of informing our students that ‘I advocate feminism’ could change the atmosphere of the room, encouraging more thoughtful and engaged discussion.

Advocating feminism in the contemporary university would have broader consequences. In 2014 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published We Should All Be Feminists, based on a talk she delivered at a Technology, Entertainment and Design conference (now better known by its acronym TED) in 2012. Adichie writes anecdotally, and passionately, in this lecture that has become a highly popular text—in ways reminiscent of Woolf. She tells us, ‘We should all be angry’. She reminds us, for those who say it’s better now, who say that change came, and now everyone is judged equal, who say that we live in a meritocracy, ‘Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice’ (Adichie 2014, p. 21). ‘We teach girls shame’, she writes, and we teach them to ‘silence themselves’. We teach them not to ‘say what they truly think’ (Adichie 2014, p. 33). How many times have we all been in a seminar classroom with fifteen bright young students, more than ten of whom are women, and heard only male voices respond to the seminar leader’s question? How many times have we sat there ourselves in a discussion group of our peers and watched our male colleagues dominate a debate? We must encourage each other, male and female, to be more aware of ourselves in relation to each other. This could be as simple as asking others to share their opinions more often, instead of offering our own. Or, as institutions like the London School of Economics (LSE) have done, we could implement policies that insist upon equality and diversity in public lecture programmes.5 We must remain alert to the Beadles who want to keep us off the grass and the ‘deprecating, silvery, kindly’ gentlemen who bar our way to the school, or the library, or the boardroom (Woolf 1929 [2001], p. 5).

In more general terms, it is, in my experience, often suggested to early career academics that they should try to be more confident, with the implicit suggestion that lack of confidence is primarily a personal flaw or fault. This seems all too reminiscent of broader contemporary cultural patterns in which, as Angela McRobbie has argued, contemporary young women are required to undertake ‘self-monitoring, the setting up of personal plans and the search for individual solutions’ (McRobbie 2009, pp. 59-60). However, in using this chapter to set out some incidents in my own experience that have made me angry about the position of women in academia, what I intend is to draw attention to other modes of thinking about confidence, beyond the individualised. Sara Ahmed argues that—

feminism [...] involves a reading of the response of anger: it moves from

anger into an interpretation of that which one is against, whereby associations or connections are made between the object of anger and broader patterns or structures. Anger is creative; it works to create a language with which to respond to that which one is against, whereby ‘the what’ is renamed, and brought into a feminist world (Ahmed 2004, p. 176).

In naming those subtle and often unacknowledged situations and expectations which make academia a more difficult career path for women, what I seek to do is not suggest that these are the most significant challenges that women face today, or to argue that these are representative of women at large. Instead, presenting these incidents together allows links to be made between them, and, as Ahmed suggests, ‘broader patterns and structures’ to be identified. In particular, I suggest that there are forms of socialization and forms of institutional organization that support the development of confidence and there are others that hinder it. Feminist thought can be employed both to disentangle the social roots of the elusive quality, confidence, that some academics from underrepresented groups seem sometimes to lack. It can help us to avoid individualization, blame and shame (‘Why aren’t you more confident?’ is seldom likely to be a helpful question, as it undermines the very self-belief it aims to establish), and it can also help to develop new forms of confidence, rooted in feminist epistemologies and ways of understanding the world. If we recognize the constructed nature of confidence, its status not simply as a property of the human individual but rather as something socially located and influenced—then feminist theory and politics has a crucial contribution to make to the formation of modes of confidence that can serve as resistance to and rebellion against current repressive institutional frameworks.


  • 1. A group of early career scholars noted this worrying trend and wrote a statement, which was read aloud at the RSA AGM.
  • 2. In an interview with Times Higher Education (2015), Simon Gaskell, Principal of Queen Mary, University of London, suggested that in the next decade universities such as Queen Mary would be likely to redefine the position of the PhD candidate from student to employee.
  • 3. The Research Excellence Framework, or REF, is the UK’s system of auditing and assessing research quality across universities. It is usually conducted every five to six years. Universities currently decide how many and which members of staff to submit to the assessment, and staff must usually submit four examples of their published work. Panels of peers (discipline specific) will then assess all the submissions and give them a star-rating. There is also assessment of the impact of research and the research environment through written statements and examples provided by departments. The REF feeds into university rankings and into how much money a university will receive from the government and hence is highly competitive, with staff under a lot of pressure to produce and submit high-star work. The government has recently asked for a review of the REF, which is currently taking place.
  • 4. I n preparing to write this chapter I approached other early career academics, male and female, some PhD students, some who have completed their doctorates in the last two years. I asked them a series of questions about their behaviour in the classroom, teaching undergraduates, and whether they actively engaged feminist theory in their research or their pedagogical practice. They kindly agreed to add their voices to this ‘I’.
  • 5. LSE’s ‘Equality and Diversity in the Public Lecture Programme: Policy Statement’ includes ‘a requirement to ensure that chairs for lectures which are part of the public events programme are briefed to take questions (and proactively encourage questions) from a balance of those in the audience, including women and minority groups, and encourage academic departments and research centres to do the same in their own events’. LSEServices/policies/pdfs/school/equAndDivPubLecPro.pdf


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