Archives for posts with tag: Feminism

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As acronyms go MOOC doesn’t roll easily off the tongue.  Massive Open Online Courses harness the reach of the worldwide web to the immediacy of social media and magically turn teaching and learning into something entirely new for educators and learners alike.  As a key element in the Equally Safe in Higher Education (ESHE) Toolkit, developing a new MOOC  ‘Understanding Violence against Women – Myths and Realities’ with my ESHE colleague Roisin McGoldrick took us into uncharted technological and pedagogical waters. With no students in front of you and no entry requirements, these free courses, covering every subject under the sun, attract learners from across the globe who might be studying at all hours of the Scottish day and night. Designing a course on VAW, a complex and at times controversial topic, for an invisible audience, was a challenge to two experienced educators used to the cut and thrust of lectures, powerpoint, handouts and groupwork.  Converting what we knew into audio-visual learning steps to capture and retain learners’ interest over a six week period meant that most of how we did things went out the window. Knowing you are only ever one click away from internet oblivion at the best of times, teaching such a complex and highly controversial subject required us each to find a friendly yet authoritative ‘voice’, somewhere between a pal and a mentor.  I won’t even go into the whole teaching to camera business…

My long experience of teaching about violence against women has shown me that it is one of the few academic subjects where students’ personal opinions can sometimes trump all the research evidence you can throw at them. 

My long experience of teaching about violence against women has shown me that it is one of the few academic subjects where students’ personal opinions can sometimes trump all the research evidence you can throw at them.  Violence against women (VAW) is so deeply interwoven in the warp and weft of world history and modern life that finding a way to unpack its complexities was our first task.  We wanted to stimulate thinking and ideas around violence against women and girls and offer knowledge and perspectives for people to consider.  We were firmly feminist in our approach and were clear that our aim was not necessarily that everyone agree but that we provided them with a strong foundation from which to build their learning and their own analyses.  To do that we needed to introduce some serious sociological concepts such as gender, power and violence. We hoped this would help them make personal connections with underpinning theories, theoretical frameworks and the lived realities for women living with violence the world over.

Before we started on the content however we were clear we needed a clear ethical framework for learning. Given its high international prevalence and gendered nature, it was very likely that many of our participants would have either direct or indirect experience of violence against women and girls in private, social or public settings. We recognised that for some, this may well have influenced their decision to study the course and how they might interpret our materials. We would be covering topics which people would likely find distressing and because we were not around to have a private chat after class, we created a ‘Health Warning’ with regular reminders about the need for self-care and regular breaks to allow processing and learning.  We established clear groundrules stressing the importance of being mindful of themselves and respectful of others in group discussions and in responding to other people’s posts in the online space, their sole and virtual classroom.  We stressed that personal experience is wholly that – unique and personal – and should not be used as evidence of more general points that people might wish to make. The chances of disclosures were likely to be high and we asked people only to share information about themselves that they were comfortable making available in the course’s public online platform. This request was well adhered to and might be a useful reminder for use in other public social media platforms,

“Please be sensitive to the potential for causing distress to yourself and to others in what you say and post during your time studying on this course.

We observed this in action many times.  Participants contravening the ground rules were dealt with very effectively and graciously by the others in ways which were a model of pro-social, measured and well-argued rebuttals.

Each learning step of the six week course contained short lectures, reading materials, hyperlinks, video extracts and opportunities for online discussion. There were quizzes and ‘live streams’ where people could tune into a Youtube channel and post questions for us to answer live on air.  We eventually got used to teaching direct to camera, to breaking learning down into powerful packets of knowledge and getting to the point and sharpish! We dashed off compact articles, wandered down the vast storehouses of Shutterstock images, interviewed experts over Skype and chipped into online discussions being carried out across continents – reading discussions between people in Sri Lanka, Chile, South Africa, Russia, Italy, Burkino Faso, New Zealand, Australia was thrilling. We learned about media schedules, subtitling, editing and were fortunate in having tremendous contributions from a range of well-kent Scottish and internationally renowned experts in the VAW field and the support of a team of learning technologists and film-makers and audio-visual specialists.

Our community of learners included survivors, a range of professionals, VAW specialists, students and many FutureLearn old hands who were simply interested in exploring a new subject. Some were regular contributors to the discussion and many were not – content to learn in their own way. There is absolutely no requirement to chip in your tuppenceworth.  We witnessed extraordinary moments of enlightenment as people began to make sense of their own or others’ experiences or to connect their practice with new ideas.  We read with interest as people spoke of their growing confidence in their own knowledge to initiate conversations about VAW with family, friends and colleagues for the first time.

In an extraordinary piece of synchronicity,  the Weinstein story and the #MeToo campaign aftermath broke when we were dealing with ‘Media Representations of VAW’.   The chat was mighty and the analysis of the press coverage was a joy to behold in its confidence, knowledge and outrage!

The pleasure of taking part in discussions with participants from every corner of the globe, of hearing their perspectives and of reaching so many people was a new one to me. The feedback since the first course ended in mid-November 2017 has been extremely positive. People connected to the issue in new ways, realised that they could play a part in preventing violence against women and many resolved at the end to take action in their own communities.

The course page invites learners to join the global movement to prevent VAW.  By taking part in a course like ours I believe they made a start.  We explored VAW Prevention at the end of the course and when people read about the first Zero Tolerance Campaign in Scotland, the 16 Days of International Activism against VAW, the Inside Outside Project, One Billion Rising and White Ribbon for instance many were inspired into taking action in their own communities.  Learning about VAW is an intervention and a key part of primary prevention.  Knowledge is indeed power, we busted some myths and laid down some realities and just maybe we have helped bring about some changes of mind.

This blog  was first posted on  by  

@AnniDonaldson

@equallysafeHE

#EmilyTest

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women's lib  in scotland book cover

Scottish Review of Books Vol 10 Issue 4 November 2014

Sarah Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland c 1968-c.1979, Manchester University Press

Book Review by Anni Donaldson

Testosterone Democracy? aka Patriarchy.

This may be a good time to reflect on some of our ‘cherished myths’ and draw attention to Scotland’s national tendency to construct misleading narratives about the kind of society we have. Kate Clanchy has argued that it is not true that ‘we’re all socialist in Scotland and we’re all terribly equal’.  Mike Small’s democratic testosterone courses through the limbs of Scotland’s own body politic. The term ‘patriarchy’ may be useful here.

The constellation of professional middle class networks operating within the Scottish political, legal, press and corporate establishments are essentially patriarchal networks which continue to be largely assymetrical in terms of the gender of the key players.

Viewed through the gender lens, male-dominated cartels are visible within the Scottish broadcast media, sport – especially football (spotted many women in the Rangers story recently – either as protagonists or analyst?) and golf (have women been admitted as members of the R&A yet?), organised religion (more of that later) and local government (only one in four Scottish councilors are women). Calling Scotland patriarchal could be a way of telling a different story about ourselves. Let’s look.

Formerly used to describe patrilineal clans or tribes, the term patriarchy was revised in the 1970s to describe social structures which maintain the dominance of the male gender. Patriarchal power was conferred through a matrix of substructures including gender, able-bodied masculinity, birth, inheritance, race/ethnicity, religion, heterosexuality, political, legal and economic power, military might, geography and so on. Patriarchy requires the cooperation of those privileged by association – including women. Patriarchal values were founded on 19th-century ideals of women’s place in the home and their role in society.

In Scotland a strong association grew up between national identity and a particular form of masculinity and continues in Scottish public and private life and culture. Although such notions were often at odds with the reality of most people’s lives, they persist in contemporary Scottish public discourse and private attitudes.

Since the 1970s, legislation and social policy have endeavoured to correct inequalities based on gender, race and ethnicity, sexuality, disability and faith. Meanwhile, Scottish corporate and municipal power structures continue to be male-dominated.

Equality for women in Scotland favours better-off, educated, full-time employed women. There remains a 14% pay differential between men’s and women’s full-time hourly pay and 35% between women’s part-time and men’s full-time hourly rates. Women’s employment remains largely concentrated in low-paid, part-time work. Occupational segregation persists. Women currently comprise two thirds of the total workforce in Scottish local government and to be under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and senior management in Scotland.

Patriarchy is also present in Scottish family and community life. Toxic masculinity remains an enduring Scottish stereotype bestowed with perverse celebrity. Violence in Scotland is essentially a ‘man thing’; men are its most frequent victims and perpetrators.

Violence against women is mainly a ‘man thing’ too. Levels of domestic abuse remain high with almost 60,000 incidents reported to Scottish police last year. The majority of victims were women. Most women murdered in Scotland are killed by a current or former partner. Estimates suggest that over 100,000 children in Scotland live with domestic abuse.

Worryingly high numbers of Scottish teenagers think that using violence in an intimate relationship is sometimes acceptable; 17% of the young women had experienced violence or abuse by a boyfriend. Scotland has a very low conviction rate for rape cases with only around 3% of reported cases resulting in a conviction. More than half of Scottish adults who had experienced serious sexual assault since the age of 16 were assaulted by their partner with over 91% saying the offender(s) was male and 7% saying the offender(s) was female. Studies indicate that 90-95% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by men, often someone known to and trusted by the child.

Our national churches struggle with challenges to patriarchal norms. The Church of Scotland’s collective knickers were in a right twist over the ordination of gay clergy, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland continues to be in a fankle about what to do about priests who are child sexual abusers (it was really very simple: this is a crime and should have been reported to the police); sexual shenanigans within its allegedly celibate priesthood (again, if it’s sexual harassment, assault or rape, these are crimes, report them. If it’s between consenting adults then Your Holinesses really do need to re-examine your rule of celibacy); past cruelties perpetrated by priests and nuns in children’s homes (the truth is thankfully coming out there in recent prosecutions). Oh, they don’t like same-sex marriage either.

According to the polls there is a substantial gender gap in support of independence with more men in favour than women. Groups on both sides of the independence debate campaigning to engage women are using gendered arguments which reflect the reality of Scottish society. Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson found that women need to know that there would be college places for their children and high quality care for older people and they deserve to know if there will be jobs for them and their families.

Jeanne Freeman of the Women for Independence Group wants to play her part ‘in persuading other women, that not only is an independent Scotland possible, but that it’s our best opportunity to realise our hopes and dreams for our families and communities’.

According to the Scottish Women’s Budget Group ‘women are frequently disadvantaged by policies that do not recognise their different realities and experiences, including unequal pay, roles at work and home, and gender-based violence’. Women are also more likely to be concerned than men about the effects of economic downturn on themselves and their families. Are men not concerned about these things too? If these concerns are marginalised as ‘women’s issues’ in the independence debate, post-referendum Scotland, whatever the outcome, is likely to be the same old patriarchal business as usual.

The personal is political and vice versa. For everyone.

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