Academic journal article Outskirts

'Tell It Slant-': Women's Studies in Western Australia

Academic journal article Outskirts

'Tell It Slant-': Women's Studies in Western Australia

Article excerpt

This article asks how feminists can write histories of academic feminism, given recent interrogations that identify the overwhelming desire to settle back into already established stories and trajectories. Taking up Clare Hemmings' suggestion that we need to pay attention to the ways we tell feminist stories through what she calls the amenability of feminist grammars (2011, 2), and Victoria Hesford's call to resist the project of 'recovering' history (2013, 11), as though there were a definitive past to recover, this article will attend to these challenges of historiography and epistemology through proposing a provisional history of academic feminism in Perth, Western Australia, through its Women's Studies programs. In order to address these theoretical and rhetorical challenges, the methodology and form draw attention to the force of established narratives while attending to the recent past as, what Hesford calls, 'both possibility and legacy' (14) which continue to shape our geographically located institutional formations.

Background

Since the 1990s urge to reflect on feminism's past and anticipate its future in the new millenium, there has been a parallel trend to document and so historicise academic feminism through its Women's Studies programs, suggesting that such programs may stand in metonymic relation to academic feminism, as a sort of barometer of its formal existence within tertiary education. While Anglo-American commentators tend to dominate this literature on a broad scale, in Australia such reflections tend to be undertaken on the level of individual institutional histories (Bulbeck 1987; Caine 1998; Curthoys 1998; Damousi 2006; Harris and Baker 2008; Matthews and Broom 1991; Rockel 1999; Sheridan and Dalley 2006; Papadelos, Michell & Eate 2014). There are also more generalized accounts (like Threadgold 1998; Ryan 1998; Magarey and Sheridan 2002,) but perhaps these are also a way 'to try and make sense of our local experience in a transnational way', as Ann Genovese claims in her editorial on Australian feminism in Feminist Review in 2010 (71). In these and the numerous reflective memoirs and histories of the second wave women's movement in Australia, however, it is rare to find mention of Perth as a site of feminism. In the available literature and the national imaginary it seems that feminism took place elsewhere of Perth (for exceptions see Davidson 1998; Eveline and Hayden 1999; Brankovich 1999; Hopkins and Roarty 2010). Part of my interest in this topic is in finding the legacies of academic feminism that I became a part of it in 2005 when I moved to Perth, but also in finding ways in which such legacies can be traced and written.

Increasing attention is being paid to the historiography and representational practices of feminism itself. Clare Hemmings (2011) argues that we should be paying attention to the stories we tell about feminism (see also Jones 1998, Henderson 2006), as they constitute 'political grammars' which are 'highly mobile' and amenable to unintended narrative consequences (2011, 2). For example, she notes how both the 'success and failure of feminism are alternately cited as reasons for not needing such departments, courses, or academic appointments any more' (2011, 10). Hemmings is particularly attentive to the ways in which feminist subjects are positioned through dominant stories of feminist theory as linear, developmental, and passed, identifying narratives of loss, progress, or prescriptions for a return (2011, 3). She demonstrates how temporal shorthand operates through attributing ideas to particular decades, and diverse theoretical landscapes are clustered around the names of particular theorists and selective citation. While Hemmings focuses on the way feminist theory is narrated, Victoria Hesford calls to account the ways in which the US feminist movement has been rhetorically produced through its intersection with the media sphere. She asks 'how has the history of women's liberation been produced; what stories have been constructed and disseminated as memories of women's liberation, in the mass mediated public sphere as well as the subcultural worlds of feminist and queer studies? …

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