Bluestocking Week – University women rally (in blue stockings)
University women in Melbourne will don blue stockings for a rally on the steps of the State Library of Victoria next Friday 10 August, 10.30am for 11am.
National Tertiary Education Union President, Jeannie Rea, said women were putting their best foot (and leg) forward to relaunch Bluestocking Week, 13-17 August.
“Bluestocking Week is as an opportunity to recognise the pioneering women that came before us, to celebrate women’s scholarship and participation in higher education and to continue campaigning around issues preventing full equality,” Rea said.
“The NTEU has joined forces with the National Union of Students (NUS) to relaunch Bluestocking Week which was held in campuses across Australia from the 1980s through to the last decade when the Howard Government’s anti-student organisation legislation killed off most student activities.
“This was a real loss because Bluestocking Week drew attention to what women had won and were still fighting for in higher education. It was not just about access and numbers of women at universities, but also about what was being taught and researched, and by whom.”
Rea said that much had changed for women in higher education since 1882 when the first Australian women – Bella Guerin and Lydia Harris – were allowed to enrol at the University of Melbourne.
“Today, 130 years later, women undergraduates are outnumbering the men. By 2010, women comprised 60% of undergraduates and 58% of postgraduates. Just as many women as men are graduating with law and medical degrees though we’re still way behind the men in engineering. There are now more women university graduates, with 41% of women 25-29 holding a bachelor degree compared to 30% of men.
“However, the feminisation of education does not represent a victory for feminism and for women. Men are still able to find work more readily, with or without a degree. They are paid more and promoted over just as able women colleagues. Whilst the gaps have lessened, the median starting salary for recent young female graduates in 2011 was still $2000 less than their male counterparts.
“This is partially explained by hours of work, location and other factors, but a key determinant is field of study. Women are still graduating in greater numbers in less lucrative fields. Even in the same fields the median starting salaries favour men in most areas.
Rea said that in universities women remain congregated in the academic disciplines traditionally associated with women.
“It is true that over the past couple of decades, a generation of women starting with Professor Dianne Yerbury, Australia’s first woman university Vice Chancellor back in 1987, were promoted through the ranks to senior academic roles, but now as that first generation of activist women in the academy retire, we seem to be losing ground once more,” she said.
“At the same time, many of the gender studies courses that women fought so hard to establish have either been abolished or are under threat. Murdoch and Deakin have cut out gender studies and the University of Newcastle is about to discontinue its gender studies major. Staff and students at LaTrobe are currently fighting to retain courses.”
Events to mark Bluestocking Week are being held in every state and territory and include lectures, seminars, forums, film screenings, art exhibitions, displays, breakfasts, morning teas, lunches and even a bake sale (!)
NUS is kicking off next Monday evening 6 August with their Bluestocking Week launch at LaTrobe University.
Note: A bluestocking is a term for an educated, intellectual woman though, until the late eighteenth century, it referred to learned people of either gender. Elizabeth Montague established a literary society called the Blue Stockings Society in the 1750s in England but the term later became pejorative and was used to dismiss the first generations of women university students and graduates. Scholarly women have since reclaimed the title with pride.
More info: http://www.nteu.org.au/women/bluestockingweek
Media comment: Jeannie Rea, NTEU President: 0434 609 531
More info: Carmel Shute NTEU Media Officer: 0412 569 356
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