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NTEU and NUS revive Bluestocking Week (13 -17 August 2012)

Posted 19 April 2012 by Jeannie Rea (NTEU National Office)

From the late 1980s through to the last decade Australian women students held Bluestocking Week*. This was an opportunity to campaign about and celebrate women’s participation in higher education.

Bluestocking Week largely disappeared as resources for women students to organise on campus dried up due to the anti-student legislation of the previous Coalition Government. 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.

While primarily focussed directly on education, Bluestocking Week often provided a vehicle for other key campaigns such as sexual violence, reproductive rights, international solidarity, paid parental leave, equal rights at work and the right for women to go anywhere, anytime and speak out, whoever you are and however you look.

NTEU has a long and proud history successfully advocating for women’s rights in and outside universities. However, we still have much to do. Our 2011 Women’s Conference adopted the theme of “we can do more”, arising out of the Education International Women’s Conference pledging to advance the educational rights and opportunities of girls and women worldwide.

This year, instead of a national conference the NTEU Women’s Action Committee has decided to focus back on campuses and work with students and communities to highlight the issues and concerns for women in universities. Fortuitously NUS Women’s Department had a similar idea – and we have decided to collaborate.

With more women than men now graduating with first degrees, women have come a long way from the original Bluestockings who had to argue against the learned men who claimed women’s brains were smaller so they were incapable of higher learning – and if they tried their wombs would atrophy as too much energy flooded to the head! And of course, it was all about penis envy. Most of these nutty ideas have disappeared from out universities (I hope!), but there remains far too much gender based discrimination and prejudice in what is learned, how and from whom.

2012 Bluestocking Week will provide a wonderful opportunity for academic and general NTEU members to work alongside students on events. Already suggested are debates, exhibitions, film nights, speakers, performances, food – themed with blue and stockinged legs. Activities can be initiated at any level of the Union and with local, state and the national student union. Coordination will be provided by the National and Division Offices.

Jeannie Rea

NTEU National President

*The term Bluestocking comes from a tradition of scholarly women being disparagingly referred to as Bluestockings from the 18th century as women started organising literary societies and began campaigning for women’s access to university. There is some controversy about the exact etymology – but the salient point is that serious intellectual women claimed the term for themselves. There is a long history of bluestocking societies, publications and events, not only in the West, but even a magazine in Japan around the turn of the 20th century!

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