Gender, equality and the university

Recently a number of things have caught my eye around gender equality in universities. This really interesting piece in the Guardian about sexism in Higher Education posed the idea that we need to be asking different questions when it comes to sexism among and between staff within universities. The article useful notes that how conduct and behaviour is defined as acceptable is in part though “the things that we chose not to do anything about”. That institutions, universities included, are sites in which unequal gender relations are reproduced and perpetuated is certainly something we should not choose to ignore. This week the Times Higher, through the metaphor of Shakespeare explored the gender pay gap within universities, providing thought provoking reading on what remains a stubborn truth about gender equality in relation to pay. I think the notion that “If universities want to retain their crowd-drawing, highly performing stars, surely it is a good idea to make both women and men feel that talent and achievements, rather than gender, are the major considerations in determining their pay” is particularly pertinent. At the recent British Sociological Association conference, there was much discussion of the ‘ResSisters’ ideas around being a feminist early career research, and their ‘Manifesta’, explained further in a short youtube film here: ResSisters presentation

The notions that tie all these aspects together is the importance of recognising privilege and using it appropriately. As academics we have the opportunity to speak out and we can use this for valuable means, for me that might be around ensuring fathers have an equal voice in parenting, so that parenting is equally devolved, not a position which burdens one person at the expense of another, and that young men as fathers are not ‘written out’ of family narratives by virtue of their not fitting an idealised middle class typology of family life. We can all speak out to better effect to promote equality around gender, in both small and big ways.  What I like most around the ResSisters work is the ideas of kindness within the university, of everyday kindness. If kindness, in the sense of consideration of others, was more widely employed across all structural levels, micro-macro, then equality may itself begin to move a little further forward. Kindness itself can be a way of speaking out, of using conduct and behaviour to create new ideas around acceptability when it comes to equality.

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