Our blue stockings are on the line is the theme of the National Union of Students’ Bluestocking Week 2013 celebrated this week 29 April – 3 May.
Events are organised across some campuses, but organisation of BSW has been hampered as NUS has mobilised their limited resources to campaign against the latest $2.3 billion higher education funding cuts announced by the federal government on 13 April. NTEU members are urged to support students on their campuses organising bluestocking week events by congratulating the organisers, promoting events and participating where possible.
NTEU will be running Bluestocking Week later this year – 12- 16 August. Reviving BSW was such a success last year, everyone was keen to keep it going. While we have much to celebrate we still have much to do for women’s equality and gender equity in (higher) education and research.
Due to the demands on NUS organising around the federal election later this year, NUS decided to go earlier this year, while NTEU is keen to consolidate the week in (wintery) August. So just for 2013 we have a BSW in both semester 1 and semester 2!
Organisation for NTEU’s semester 2 Bluestocking Week will begin soon. Watch this space www.nteu.org.au/women/bluestockingweek and contact your local NTEU Branch. If you have a good idea or suggested activity, please also contact your branch, your NTEU Women’s Action Committee (WAC) representatives through your Division office or NTEU National President Jeannie Rea on firstname.lastname@example.org
This website details Bluestocking Week events across the country, as well as provided some 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 the freedom of expression and thought.
For further information on Bluestocking Week activities and events please contact NTEU National Office on 03 9254 1910 or email Policy and Research Officer, Terri MacDonald at email@example.com. Information on NUS's Bluestocking week activities for 2013 can be found here
From the late 1980s through to the last decade Australian women students held Bluestocking Week across the country. This was an opportunity to campaign about and celebrate women’s participation in higher education. However, Bluestocking Week largely disappeared as resources for women students to organise on campus dried up due to the anti-student organisation (VSU) 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.
In 2012 with the partial restoration of student union funding, there was a resurgence in student activism and campus culture, and both NTEU and NUS deemed that it was time to restore and renew Bluestocking Week, making it relevant for a new generation of university women. In August 2012 (13 -17) there were over 50 events held around the country celebrating Bluestocking week and women in education. It was viewed as such a success, that plans are already underway to have Bluestocking week in 2013.
An overview of Bluestocking week in 2012 will be pubished in NTEU's annual women's publication, Agenda (due out late September 2012). For more information please contact NTEU National Office.
Jeannie Rea, NTEU President
The first generations of women university students were called Bluestockings. This was widely used and whilst originally quite pejorative, probably became quite affectionate as women used the expression themselves to identify with being scholarly, inquisitive and clever. We still see the term used occasionally in commentary to refer to university women. The stereotype was of a ‘bookish’ spinster (as though that was a problem). Of course, many young women seeing the drudgery of marriage and motherhood fought for this alternative.
The 18th century English tradition of scholarly women being disparagingly referred to as 'Bluestockings' came at a time when women started organising literary societies and began campaigning for women’s access to university and more generally for women’s rights to equality in work, under the law and in access into parliament. Many of the middle and upper class leaders of the suffragist and suffragette movements started out in these literary societies, as did some of the male supporters of women’s rights.
There is some controversy about the exact etymology of bluestocking. Some accounts claim that the wearing of woolly, dark blue stockings – rather than the formal black silk stockings that were socially acceptable – was a symbolic reference, partly to the tradition of scholars wearing stockings (commencing with the Venetian scholars - the della calza: literally “of the stocking”- of the 1400s), and partly as a statement against the restrictive social constructs around women, who were considered intellectually inferior to men. Other explanations include reference to a man who belonged to one of these literary societies turning up to the salon wearing rough blue stockings.
The movement is characterised by a sense of personal independence (even defiance) by these women, and at times a bohemian rejection of accepted social norms. While discussions were based primarily in literary world, those in the movement valued intellectual debate and critical inquiry – which are the fundamental principles of academia today.
“Always ladies, never pedants, they regarded life with intelligence and common sense, formed their own opinions, followed their own tastes; and accomplished something towards the ideal of a gay and frank comradeship with brilliant and learned men.” R. Brimley Johnson, Bluestocking Letters, 1926.
Whatever the origins of Bluestockings, 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: here is a cover of a magazine in Japan around the turn of the 20th century: