Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Daring to lead with feminism: Stories from gender studies academics in Australian higher education (#215)

Briony Lipton 1 , Liz Mackinlay 2
  1. The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
  2. The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

In what is considered one of her openly feminist works, Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf commented on the academic procession of men she saw marching figuratively past her window. Woolf’s feminist writings in Three Guineas directly challenged the kind of education that patriarchy provided, questioned the values upon which such education was based, and lamented the exclusion of women. If she were alive today, Woolf might well ask the same question: have academic women joined the parade of men, are women excluded or included in this procession or are we performing a pageant of our own making? For decades feminists in Australia and overseas have decried academia and university management a ‘boys club’. Although women now make up approximately fifty-six per cent of academic staff in Australia, they only represent twenty-eight per cent of staff above senior lecturer level, and only twenty per cent of university vice-chancellors are female. 2 Indeed, it is the performance of feminist leadership in teaching and learning within and against the procession of academic men which takes centre stage in this paper. Leadership is now central to the corporate, self-managed university and is entangled with notions of disciplinary knowledge, merit and excellence, and yet questions remain about who does the counting and who gets counted. In this paper we navigate the uncertainty and complexity of university leadership and the gendered implications for staff and students. We concur with Jill Blackmore 3  that a refocusing of the feminist gaze away from numerical representation of women in leadership to a more nuanced understanding is needed and that we must look more closely at social relations of gender and power. This paper draws upon interviews with gender studies academics to better understand what it means to be a feminist teacher and leader in a new era of higher education.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

With the advent of affirmative action, equal employment opportunity, and workplace diversity, universities can no longer be described exclusively as antiquated ivory towers of patriarchal hegemony. Universities are multifaceted institutions operating in a complex world in which there is an array of competing discourses at play. Gendered organisational structures, collegial interactions and gendered personal lives continue to perpetuate inequality in academia. University leadership and teaching are not mutually exclusive. This paper explores the complexities and contradictions of the neoliberal, corporatised and deregulated university environment and the implications this has for feminist academics teaching gender studies. As Ann Curthoys notes, 'gender continues to organise our work and our scholarly relations in ways we do not fully understand', 4  and thus this is a matter of further investigation.

  1. Murphy, A., & McNett, J. (2000). Women’s learning, women’s work. Virginia Woolf: Turning the Centuries. Selected Papers from the Ninth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf (pp. 317-24)
  2. Australian Government. (2014). Department of Education and Training Higher Education statistics. Accessed 8 November, 2014, from
  3. Blackmore, J. (2013). A feminist critical perspective on educational leadership. International Journal of Leadership in Education 16(2), 139-154.
  4. Curthoys, A. (2014). Gender in the social sciences: Field of Study or form of inequality? Australian Feminist Studies 29(80), 115-120.
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