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Bluestocking Week

Bluestocking Week is an initiative of the NTEU Women’s Action Committee, chaired by the National President and coordinated by the National Office in cooperation with Divisions' women’s committees/networks and local Branches. 

These web pages provide details of upcoming and previous Bluestocking Weeks, as well as a short history on the traditions of Bluestocking women. It also has links to other resources focusing on the themes of women’s intellectualism, advancing feminism through education and rebelling against social constructs that prescribe roles for women and restrict women’s freedom of expression and thought. For further information please contact Terri MacDonald.


Bluestocking Week 14-18 August 2017

Worth 100% – Women in Higher Education

We have reached a milestone - this will be the fifth year that NTEU, together with NUS (National Union of Students) have run Bluestocking Week, after successfully relaunching it in 2012.  Over the last 4 years, the event has grown in both scope and size, with more university campuses participating each year, and is now viewed as an annual event. 

The theme for this year is “Worth 100%”.  While the inspiration is drawn from the highly successful gender pay equity campaign used by the public sector union in New Zealand in 2016, we want to use it as a touchstone to highlight many aspects of gender based discrimination in higher education institutions here. 

The purpose of the theme “Worth 100%” is to give us a focus.  That said, activities should also reflect the intersectional nature of feminism – we have had many BSW events featuring the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women on and off campus, of women of colour, specifically of Muslim women. Gender diversity has been a point of intersection and intervention. Class matters, as does ableness.

NTEU Branches and Divisions have been asked to ensure events are open and inclusive, and to consider broadening BSW activities from the all-important get togethers to forums, competitions, exhibitions, debates and more, and to loudly and vibrantly assert the place of women in higher education. While signifying blue stocking attire and blue cakes should be enjoyed, activities that take on the issues that confront women in higher education should also be a central focus (many of which would be sadly familiar to the original bluestockings) – the theme “Worth 100%” is a positive way to address these issues and assert women’s voices and agency.

Why Worth 100%

To answer why “worth 100%” is our slogan, we must first ask the obvious question - why is there still a 10% gender pay gap in education, when women and their unions have organised so successfully over so long for gender equity? We know that education unions, including the NTEU, can proudly claim their credentials as long term and consistent campaigners for equal pay, for equal opportunities, affirmative action, and gender inclusive curriculum, and against both explicit and covert discrimination in structures, policies and practices.

What is the problem then? Focussing specifically upon higher education, while a component is because women are more likely to have ‘interrupted’ careers, the main reason is because sexism is real. Not only does higher education continue to be highly occupationally gender segregated, but that even when women and men have the same job there can be different expectations and outcomes. Then there is the crass fact that men are the main recipients of bonuses, which are outside of Enterprise Agreement regulation.

While much is said about the feminisation of higher education in that women are now the majority of staff and students, the trend is that already feminised fields of study have become more so. There has been some balancing out in professional areas like law and medicine, but in the classic STEM areas change is slow. Women are now just as likely to go on to and succeed in higher degrees as men. But the gender pay gap (GPG) is there immediately at graduation at 3.4% and widens out to 9.3% in just three years according to the Graduate Careers Council (2016).

Within higher education institutions this is reflected in the careers of both professional and academic women. Women seeking career advancement tend to remain concentrated in middle level positions and the funnel through to senior positions continues to be narrow.  (Read more in the latest Advocate, out soon)

What's happening this year?

We are confident that this year, BSW will be even bigger and better, linking in with the new activism that we are seeing emerge on university campuses. We are also keen to further involve postgraduate students through CAPA.

Bluestocking Week is an initiative of the National Women’s Action Committee (WAC) chaired by the National President.  Events are organised by Branches and Divisions, in cooperation with their women’s committees/networks (where these exist). 

The National office provides support where required and coordinates activities overall using the BSW events page to list and promote events. For BSW posters and information on other promotional materials head to our Resources page (these will be supplied shortly). 

For more information on BSW read below, or contact Terri Mac Donald, NTEU Policy and Research Officer, National Office ([email protected]).

What is Bluestocking Week about?

Bluestocking Week is named for the first generations of university women of the 19th century who grabbed the term and, even as it was used by their opponents as a derogatory dismissal of their achievements proudly wore it as a badge of serious scholarship.

The term originates from the latter part of the 18th century as women started organising literary societies in their homes and began campaigning for women’s access to university and more generally for women’s rights to equality in work, under the law and access into the parliaments. Many of the English middle and upper class leaders of the suffragist and suffragette movements started out in or were influenced by these literary societies, as were some of the male supporters of women’s rights. Indeed the term ‘blue stocking’ is often attributed to a male member of the circle who arrived at meetings in his everyday worsted wool blue stockings rather than white silk ones usually worn by men when meeting with men. This was taken up as distinguishing the women’s initiative*

While the original bluestockings of the literary societies and indeed the university pioneers were upper middle class and wealthy women, like their brothers, the efforts of women of more lowly backgrounds and their supporters should not be rendered invisible by the focus on the wealthy. As more research is done on the early university bluestockings it becomes clear that clever and determined women with financial support of families and communities made it through to universities and went on to careers in public service across many fields. I recommend Jane Robinson's Bluestockings: the remarkable story of the first women to fight for an education (2009, Penguin, London) to tell more of this story in Britain. Hopefully someone is currently researching and writing a similar book on the diversity of the Australian Bluestockings.

Jeannie Rea

NTEU National President

Further information

For details of the origins and histories of the Bluestockings, see also the 2013 edition of Agenda, the NTEU’s annual women’s magazine.

Bluestocking Week is coordinated by the national Women’s Action Committee which has representatives from each Division. Events are being organised at national, divisional and university branch levels. Contact your branch to get involved and make suggestions. As events are organised they will be posted on this website.

For further information on Bluestocking Week activities and events please contact your local NTEU Branch or Division office or the NTEU National Office on 03 9254 1910 or email Terri MacDonald.