Being a feminist researcher

As many of you will be aware, this week the annual SGSAH Summer School took place in venues across Glasgow. It is such a great opportunity to take part in some PhD related training events and creative workshops, and to catch up with PhD peers from across Scotland. There is a real sense of community in the network of arts & humanities PhD students from all over Scotland, and it is so great to hear about other people’s research, exciting plans and collaborative projects that are underway or upcoming. I hope any of you attending workshops this work had an equally enjoyable time, and if you are interested in writing a blog post about your experiences please do get in touch.

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Exploring the Glasgow Women’s Library 

On Monday I attended a workshop on feminist research methods and networks at the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL), organised in collaboration with the Postgraduate Gender Research Network of Scotland (PGRNS). It was a wonderful coming-together of people who identify as feminists, work on feminist subject matter, or have an interest in feminist research. Throughout the day we heard from various speakers, discussed our research methods in groups, got a tour of the library and learned about the history and aims of the GWL project. Amongst the speakers were Valerie Wright – a Research Associate in Economic & Social History at the University of Glasgow, Adele Patrick – Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager at GWL, and Rachael Purse and Karen Mailley-Watt of the History Girls Frae Scotland.

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Adele Patrick of the Glasgow Women’s Library

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Rachael & Karen of The History Girls Frae Scotland in action

I went into the day knowing that I was a feminist and pretty certain that my research was too, but I left with a deeper and more developed understanding of what it means to be a feminist researcher / academic. Drawn from the discussions through the day, I put together this list of the many different ways it is possible to be a feminist in research, academia, and professional practice more generally (as I understand it). As the following will show, it is possible to be a feminist researcher even if your research has nothing to do with feminism, or even women.

So what does it mean to be a feminist researcher? 

1) You identify as a feminist.

2) You use ‘feminist research methods’. This could draw from feminist theory or literature, or simple be a methodology that adheres to feminist values and principles. One of the speakers referenced a 5 point plan for feminist research, if anyone knows where to find this please send it my way and I will add a link here! 

3) Your work is feminist in subject matter. i.e. your research empowers or celebrates women or women’s achievements, highlights women’s work, or makes space for women’s voices to be heard. 

4) You acknowledge when it is not possible to do 2 or 3 and discuss why, acknowledge a gap in your research or in the field more generally, and flag it up when there is a problem.

5) You use feminist language or terminology. A great example given on the day from a theology student was to avoid referring to God as a ‘he’ within her thesis. Generally speaking we tend to use ‘he’ as a default when a gender is not specified. ‘She’ and ‘they’ are usually equally valid.

6) You identify as a woman in a field outnumbered by men and you use your voice. This is much harder in some fields than others and it is important not to put yourself in situations where you do not feel safe. As anyone who read Diljeet’s blog post earlier this week will know this can also be a more complex challenge for women of colour, but Diljeet has shown how important it can be to make yourself seen and heard.

6) You support and encourage other women in research and practice. Support your peers and particularly those who are earlier on in their careers. Do not ‘punch down’ but offer help and opportunities when you can. Encourage conversation and let people have their say.

7) You create safe and productive work spaces for women. If you are planning event make sure that you consider how it will be experienced by women, and try to plan ahead to avoid difficult situations. (There are some great blogposts out there on ettiequte for chairing and asking questions at conferences, for example.)

So why does all this matter? 

Why as women in academia should we strive to be feminist researchers? What if you don’t identify as a feminist? This is a particularly pertinent question if you don’t work on feminist ‘issues’, or subjects directly related to women’s history or experiences. I would argue that many of the points made above are self explanatory. Much of the discussion on Monday was centred on the difficulties we face in our individual fields, particularly those such as military history, theology, and architecture which are still notably male dominated. As women (or as feminists), we should work to support each other to create more equal workspaces, and boost women’s careers in academia and beyond. Creating strong networks is so important, and it is great to see established organisations like the Glasgow Women’s Library, and new groups like the PGRNS, making headway in this area. Sometimes, being a woman in academia is hard, and uncomfortable, and disheartening. Let’s all try to be a little bit more feminist in our research, and celebrate women both on and off the page.

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Some of the excellent women in my SGSAH cohort celebrating the end of a great summer school day with beer & halloumi fries!

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