Sunday, 23 March 2014

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY - With Megan Sharp



My greatest inspiration is a wonderful woman I have had the privilege of calling my best friend for the last 10 years. Megan inspires me on a daily basis. In addition to the  admirable contributions toward her PHD in “Queer Women in Punk”, she is intelligent, funny and carries herself with such warmth. 

International Women’s Day was approaching and I really wanted to include something on this space to recognise the importance of this day. I was having my nightly conversation with Megan and she was telling me about presenting her research at Newcastle University for IWD. This lead me to two emotions. One – an overwhelming mother like pride and two – a severe disappointment that I wasn’t going to be able to be there (one of the tricky aspects of interstate friendship).

“What are you going to wear?” is the big question I had to ask. I am always fascinated with how people come to a decision on what they are going to wear for an important event because I think that often the way we dress, is a way for us to try to control the way other people perceive us. 

Over the years our styles have sometimes drifted closer to each other and often polar opposites, but we have always had an appreciation for each other’s outfits. Megan likes fashion but it is certainly not to the level of my obsession, where I would favour pastel colours and cute prints she would be more drawn to a good cut and comfort. 
 
So I came up with a solution for my problem of getting as close as I could to experiencing her presentation and also finding out what she was going to wear. I asked Megan to write a piece that shared her outfit choice and her experiences on the day. I was a bit hesitant to ask her to do this because she has a full work load but like the wonderful friend she is, she happily obliged. 

 I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did and a belated Happy International Women’s day! 


Last week I was asked to present my research at an International Women’s Day seminar held on campus at The University of Newcastle (UoN). International Women’s Day is really important to me and my research focuses on the construction of female identities in male dominated spaces, specifically queer identities in punk arenas so I was pleased to be asked to take part.

I am ashamed to admit that in my seven years of University, I had never participated in events convened by The Women’s Collective at UoN and therefore the experience was completely new to me. I’ve always been a relatively autonomous student, preferring individual projects rather than group-based collaborations but as I get a little older and a little more confident in the work that I do, I’ve begun to regret not actively pursuing these collectives.

My presentation style is fairly casual which is a result of both my personality and the nature of my research. So I built a PowerPoint slideshow to draw on while I spoke and basically just talked as inclusively as I could. There was a good turnout, probably 20 or so women, ranging from 18 to 50 (as far as I can tell) and I could sit amongst them rather than stand at a lectern and talk at them. Now, I had other tasks for that day and had been running around picking up office keys, writing emails, reading and attempting finalise some administrative requirements of my PhD. I’d thought about what I would wear on the day as I talk a lot about the aesthetic of femaleness and queer in my research. In the end, I considered the following points:

1.  I don’t know what presentation space looks like. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be standing away from people or how many women would be there. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, wear something professional (like a blazer, for me that’s fancy and not part of my regular wardrobe) but I also didn’t want to be so casual that it looked like I didn’t care or was ‘too cool’ or something.
2.  My research looks at collective authorisation so, what women do and say to make other women feel empowered to try themselves out. This meant that I wanted to wear something that was true to who I am, firstly as a queer woman, secondly as a punk woman and thirdly, as an academic and researcher. Wearing an outfit that wasn’t a reflection of my comfort in who I express myself as seemed odd.
3.  It was hot. Really hot. Like 32 degrees Celsius - nobody wants to wear a tailored, collared shirt and thick denim jeans, and be running around campus in that.

So, I settled on a new pair of blue jeans I’d picked up in New York a few weeks prior and a grey and black striped muscle tee, my black vans for comfort and style and my hair (which I admitted put no effort into) in a bun. I forgot about make-up but I think I had some of the previous days mascara still visible under my scratched-to-shit glasses. Seemed legit, I looked like me and I was gonna talk like me. I did consider a band shirt, but decided against it simply because it may be distracting. I already have some visible tattoos and I don’t want people trying to work out where I got my Joy Division t-shirt or what the script on a Bikini Kill cassette print says rather than listening to my interpretation of colonised, masculine space, ya know?

I discussed my project, what it means to me and others, how I make it relevant and apply it to various spaces. In these situations I am always aware that talking about queerness and the ability of queer to challenge male-dominated landscapes may alienate people. Being queer and participating in punk subculture is not everyone’s experience so I decided to discuss embodiment and how a concept like that can give feminist research so much depth. The importance of writing to self, especially the self as a woman surrounded by masculinist language choices. How you can become ‘the Other’ even when writing the self and what that means to contemporary feminist writing. 

My fashion choices were good ones for me. As the forum was held in the afternoon, the women were all dressed casually and had had busy days too. I’m not too concerned with being taken seriously through my fashion but, in that space I didn’t want to be so punx or so queer or whatever that no-one related to what I was doing. In a room full of academics from various disciplines and of various genders, I am less concerned with alienation and more concerned with my theoretical framework being hung out to dry. If I am asked to contribute again to this blog, I will consider a compare/contrast with an event like that! 

Everyone seemed to like what they heard. They responded well to a more casual presentation style and, even if they didn’t engage with the subject matter, it felt like the audience were supportive of my ideas. Unfortunately, I wasn’t asked any questions except the seemingly unavoidable ‘but what do men do?’ which I was hoping wouldn’t come up at an International Women’s Day forum. I was a little deflated but figured that, in a few years when these women start writing some awesome stuff, they might email that woman who talked about ‘borrowing language from other disciplines to embody feminist, sociological research’.


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