Women's work

December 17, 2009

Elizabeth Hoult is quite right to argue that learning needs to be reconceptualised in order for all students to gain the best possible experience ("Let feminine side of learning thrive", 10 December). In my doctorate, "Of spinsters and mistresses: Re-turning the academic to women" (later published as a book), I argued that despite apparently more-than-equal numbers and a host of equal-opportunity policies, universities fail women by expecting us to fit into a male academic mode. Women's learning opportunities are narrowed in many institutions, with the academy often taking little or no account of the wide range of experiences that mature women in particular bring with them.

Gendered and normalised understandings about what learning is and who counts as a learner are institutionalised and regulated. Like Hoult, I have drawn on the work of Helene Cixous, as well as Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, to explore the ways in which particular academic discourses privilege certain texts, literacies and values.

To succeed at university, women need to learn to use the language of the academy, and do so very well. However, that language, and the claims to truth and knowledge embedded within academic discourses, remain in the domain of the privileged. Instead, women should be learning to resist, challenge and reconstruct academic discourses and call for different ways to be academic.

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