The relevance and visibility of gender scholarship?
‘Let’s face it, they need to focus on the basics rather than things that are peripheral to good teaching!’ In 1983, my first year of teaching here at Leeds Beckett, this was a colleague’s response to my suggestion that a new question be incorporated into a worksheet we had designed to help Physical Education (PE) student teachers evaluate each others’ lessons.
The question? ‘Did the teacher ask questions of girls as well as boys in their lesson?’ I hadn’t envisaged such opposition; surely good pedagogy means being aware of, and guarding against, gender biases in our teaching - including the students to whom we direct questions? In those days, I drew on Kate Myers’ (1987) practical handbook for school teachers, GenderWatch, to help my student teachers ‘watch out for’ how gender inequalities may be perpetuated (and importantly, challenged) in their everyday teaching practices. Although no more than a passing reference in my own undergraduate teacher training course, it was access to such ‘gender knowledge’ and feminist theories as part of my masters work at the ‘other’ university in Leeds, that led to me focusing much of my higher education career towards asking critical questions about gender! Of course, working in PE and sport - described by Connell (2008) as an ideal arena for ‘doing gender’ - my subject area provided (and continues to provide) a fertile context for engagement in feminist scholarship.
Thirty five years later, writing this on International Women’s Day (8th March), the need for continued vigilance and commitment to ‘gender watching’ and challenging gender inequalities remains - whether that’s in our university’s practices and cultures, or in our wider lives outside of work. However, I can also reflect positively on some of the changes that have taken place in relation to the development and vibrancy of gender scholarship. It is certainly more visible and supported than in my early university years, and our inaugural Gender Research conference, held on the 6th March, at Cloth Hall Court, was testimony to that.
The conference was supported by our university as part of its wider commitment to gender equality, and is one of several outcomes in our Athena Swan action plan. The Athena SWAN charter is based on 10 key principles and recognises commitment to, and progress on, gender equality. By being part of Athena SWAN, we are committing to adopting these principles within our university policies, practices, action plans and culture. Our full action plan can be viewed here. But, importantly, the conference was an uplifting example of positive action in relation to our support for gender equality within the university. Over 100 staff and research students came together to share their gender scholarship, network with each other, and be inspired by the very many different presentations from colleagues across the university. Gender scholarship - in all its guises - is alive and well, and an important strength of Leeds Beckett’s research.
As an older woman approaching retirement, I found the keynote address by Professor Jayne Raisborough, from the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities, a particularly poignant and challenging start to the day. Delivered in a delightfully accessible and engaging way, her nevertheless cogent critique of the gendered anti-ageing culture and the way in which feminism can be used as anti-dote, set the scene for what was to follow. It was difficult to choose which parallel paper sessions to attend afterwards, such was the breadth and range of gender research on offer.
After listening to some fascinating presentations in the Cultural Studies symposium, led by Professor Ruth Robbins, I returned to listen to my colleague, Dr Beccy Watson from the School of Sport discussing the rewards and challenges of co-editing her recent Palgrave Handbook of Feminism and Sport, Leisure and Physical Education. At 888 pages, including contributions from Beccy herself and other colleagues from the School of Sport, it is a significant addition to the advancement of gender scholarship in our field – as well as, of course, a good read to start my retirement.
Thank you to all the colleagues that contributed to the gender research conference day; planning is already underway on how we can make it an annual event in the university calendar.
Anne Flintoff is a former Professor of Physical Education and Sport in the Carnegie School of Sport. Her teaching, research and consultancy centred on issues of equity and social inclusion, particularly gender and race.