Celebrating bluestockings

This week is Bluestocking Week, organised by the National Tertiary Education Union to celebrate women’s achievements in education. You can read more about it here. ‘Bluestocking’ was originally a derogatory term to describe intellectual or literary woman, as Jeannie Rea writes:

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.

This year’s theme is ‘Bluestocking women change the rules’, which followed nicely from July’s NAIDOC Week’s celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with the theme ‘Because of her we can!’ (Recommended reading: here are some deadly women).

I was fortunate enough to celebrate at a University of New South Wales lunchtime talk. I actually started writing my presentation a year ago, when I was scheduled to talk at UNSW’s 2017 Bluestocking event. It was a year ago that my daughter’s epilepsy worsened and she had the first of many hospitalisations. I spoke about care and undercare in the academy from my own experience and my research. In light of the theme on rule-changing, I also talked about slow academia, activism in the academy and virtuous naughtiness. I recommended reading Rosalind Gill’s Breaking the silence: the hidden injuries of neoliberal academia, Kathleen Lynch’s Carelessness: A hidden doxa of higher education, and Alison Mountz and colleagues’ For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University.

It was a privilege to hear from Zora Simic, feminist scholar extraordinaire, who presented a global historical perspective on feminist activism. She shared examples from Aboriginal women activists in Australia, and took us on a whirlwind tour of Canada, Poland, Latin America, Ireland and South Korea. This was a wonderful, all too brief, learning opportunity. Zora also wished Madonna happy 60th birthday. You can see some of Zora’s slides on this Twitter thread.

Happy Bluestocking week to all rule-changers! Bluestocking, an online journal of women’s history, looks like a great place to learn more.

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