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.
NTEU is pleased to announce that, in conjunction with the National Union of Students (NUS) and Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA), Bluestocking week is here again in 2014!
Bluestockings will again be all the rage from August 11-15, on campuses all around the country. This year is already promising to be bigger and better than last year, with more planned in all states and terrorities.
This year’s theme is “Crossing the Line”, with a focus on fighting attitudes that seek to silence the voices of women, and to highlight the importance of women speaking out and sharing their stories and views.
This will be the third year that NTEU together with NUS (National Union of Students) have run Bluestocking Week, after successfully relaunching it in 2012. Over the last 2 years, the event has grown in both scope and size, with more university campuses participating each 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.
When we reintroduced Bluestocking Week in 2012 we focussed upon celebrating women’s achievements in higher education and assessing the current situation for women. There is a long way to go. For a terrific visual depiction of the statistics on women in higher education go back and look at the 2012 edition of the NTEU’s annual women’s magazine Agenda.
Last year, we are focused on what the future may hold – we were heading towards an election where the outcome was the conservative Tony Abbott led Coalition government. It was important that we held the line, defending equity and accessibility in universities, highlighting the value of education in a progressive society, and underlining the need to maintain quality higher education sector through appropriate levels of public funding.
We could see even before the change of government that opportunities for equity and access to initatives that have benefited women were under attack. Gender studies courses and research, suffering in course and staff cutbacks, are now fighting to maintain their existence as more conservative attitudes to feminism in education and research have political sway. We have an environment where pro-women and feminist policies and approaches are being ignored, and where the new conservative government seeks to actively wind back the clock to a pre-Menzies era for gender equality and women’s rights.
We also knew that the conservatives would cut into the public funding to universities and support for students. However, the levels of animosity shown by the current government to students, academics, researchers and anyone who works in a university, coupled with the severity of the 2014 federal budget including the cuts to higher education, is appalling. Indeed, many of the Budget measures will have a worse impact on women.
This year, it’s time for action on campuses. While we support the protests and actions opposing the cuts to higher education, we also need to fight those attitudes that seek to silence the voices of women. Bluestocking week will highlight the importance of women speaking out and sharing their stories and views. We want to create a human tapestry that describes the experience of women who work and study in our universities, and whose lives are richer for that experience. Through Bluestocking Week’s activities, we want to challenge the conservative agenda that both degrades and denigrates women and which portrays feminist viewpoints as extreme, dangerous and irrelevant.
We are particularly interested in events or activities that collate the stories of women in our universities - in all their diversity and marvel. As a part of this year's activities, we are encouraging women to take a picture of themselves or with others and provide a short caption about them and their connection to universityas part of bigger project - We are the women of the university; past, present and future. We also want to focus upon the budget cuts and deregulation and privatisation agenda, which will clearly close down many women's access to university.
Women can post their stories on this website as they "cross the line" and challenge attitudes that seek to restrict women's freedom and opportunities. We want to hear from women on their ‘bluestocking’ experiences - click here to tell us your story, or here to read submitted stories.
We will use these stories in events in Bluestocking Week and beyond.
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.
NTEU National President
The 2013 theme was ‘Holding the Line’ and posters, bookmarks and balloons were again produced pursuing this theme. In a tumultuous period for gender politics in Australia and when public resistance to sexism in public life is clearly needed, ‘Holding the Line’ seemed an apt theme for NTEU’s Bluestocking Week in 2013.
Holding the Line also complemented the National Union of Students (NUS) theme for their April Bluestocking Week - ‘Our blue stockings are on the line’. It also allowed for some excellent imagery in our poster artwork. And that was taken even further in the national launch event on Monday morning of 12 August when National Office staff and others, in blue stockings literally held the line in University Arcade (next to Victoria University), draping a clothes line of cardboard cut-outs of stockings and clothes (reproduced from the poster) across the laneway drawing many interested queries from staff and students, tourists, city workers and shoppers who were all taking photos.
The National Union of Students held their 2013 Bluestocking Week in April to avoid coinciding with the federal elections, but in 2014 they will revert back to August with NTEU.
In 2012 we focused upon celebrating the success of women in higher education drawing upon the history of women’s sometimes slow, but determined struggle for participation in universities as students and staff, as well as upon challenging gendered discrimination in the construction and transmission of knowledge. We emphasised that women may now have the numbers, as the majority of students and staff in universities, but we are still continually struggling against gendered segregation as a major obstacle to gender equity. Disciplines, occupations and paths to promotion and decision making power are still gendered.
When NTEU and NUS relaunched Bluestocking Week, we created physical space and time to speak out against sexism. The feedback was extremely positive as women (and men) learned that their scepticism about the rhetoric of gender equity was justified and that in reality we have a long way to go.
The reality in higher education is that women constitute the majority of casualised academics, but only a quarter of the professoriate, make up most of the lower level general staff without adequate opportunities for career advancement, and students are still sharply concentrated in traditional gendered disciplines and courses. Women graduates earn less than their male counterparts, and are more likely to be in insecure jobs.
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.