Blog

A woman’s place is leading the resistance: an analysis of Carrie Fisher’s life and art.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Katherine J C Sang

Abstract 

During the Women’s March of 2017, a prominent image could be seen across many of the international marches. This image was of Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise with the quote ‘a woman’s place is in the resistance’. As Carrie Fisher herself stated, Leia and Carrie were inextricably intertwined. Even after her early death, Carrie Fisher was leading the women’s movement. This abstract adopts an interdisciplinary approach to considering what we can learn about what feminist styles of leadership may look like. Leadership is historically understood to be gendered in its conceptualization and enactment, with leadership closely tied to forms of masculinity. Previous research has suggested that leadership is not a series of traits, but is performative and can be understood through a Butlerian lens of gender performativity. Further extant work has demonstrated the benefit of analysing texts such as autobiographies and fiction to understand how leadership is both performative and gendered. This chapter will extend that argument, through analyses of cultural artefacts including Carrie Fisher’s memoirs and performances in the Star Wars series to imagine what a feminist vision of leadership might look like. Drawing on General Organa/Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher’s own life I suggest that a feminist style of leadership cannot only be imagined in the Star Wars universe but also enacted in day-to-day life. The chapter will conclude by considering what we may learn about the performance of feminist leadership, particularly in the context of contemporary resistance movements. 

Page BreakCarrie Fisher 

As Manning and Adams (2015) assert, as researchers we are not distinct from the cultural texts we analyse. Instead our personal experiences are key to our analyses. This is absolutely the case in this chapter, where my own appreciation of the Star Wars films, especially the character of Leia, sits alongside an affection for Carrie Fisher. Similarly to LeBlanc (2017), I have watched Princess Leia/General Organa and Carrie Fisher, making mental notes of their feminism for much of my life, since my own feminism emerged. As such this chapter is as much a labour of love as it is an academic exploration of what feminist leadership might look like and how Carrie Fisher’s legacy has extended beyond her early death in December, 2016. The chapter begins by setting out a brief introduction to Carrie Fisher and the blurring of Fisher the actress and Leia the character. It then moves to a discussion of feminist leadership, as the theoretical framing for this chapter. I note that the concept of feminist leadership remains sparsely researched, in part due to a history of masculine domination of both leadership and leadership scholarship. The chapter then considers how Fisher’s life and Leia’s character arc intertwine to demonstrate key aspects of feminist leadership. Throughout the chapter I draw on Fisher’s own words (from autobiographies and interviews), the growing academic literature on Carrie Fisher’s life and excerpts from media, popular culture and social media. The chapter concludes by considering how feminist leadership emerges in the Star Wars universe, and is moving into contemporary women’s activism.  

Carrie fisher or Leia? 

‘I like to quote fictional characters, because I’m something of a fictional character myself!’ (Fisher, 2009: 155).  

When writing or thinking about Carrie Fisher, I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to separate Fisher the Actress from Leia, to the extent that I sometimes forget that Marie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally, is the same actress as Princess Leia. Fisher herself, articulated similar confusion between herself and her most famous character. ‘Am I Princess Leia, or is she me?’ (Fisher, 2017:6). Widmayer’s (2017) analysis of social media posts in the months after Carrie’s death, noted that for many fans on social media, Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia were inextricably entangled. Indeed, Fisher herself noted that she was unable from a young age to distinguish between her mother’s fictional live in film and television and ‘real life’ (Fisher, 2009).  For the purposes of this chapter, I do not try to draw a distinction between the actress and the character, at least not a sharp distinction. Instead, it is acknowledged and perhaps even celebrated as part of both Fisher’s and Leia’s reach and legacy. 

Feminist leadership 

Despite a small body of academic literature exploring leadership within the Star Wars universe, there is a paucity of work that examines the leadership demonstrated by Princess Leia. Perhaps this is due to George Lucas’ own presentation of Leia as a character who moves from rebel leader to being a ‘drag’ and a ‘nuisance’ to the Rebellion (Henthorn, 2013:80). However, this presentation is at stark odds with the popular media’s presentation of Leia as a leader, where there are numerous blogs and magazine articles that explore Leia’s leadership style and traits. It is not possible to present all of these pieces as they number into the hundreds. Instead, below, I have selected a few which have clearly articulated why the authors feel Leia is a leader and how that leadership is demonstrated. In the online leadership magazine ‘Leaderonomics’ Naidu (2017) argues that Princess Leia challenges the idea that ‘females should be seen but not heard’ (no page number). An anonymous (2019) www.starwars.com review of a new Star Wars animation series, states that Leia is, above all else, a leader with her ability to inspire and persevere through challenging times. The anonymous author argues that Leia’s legacy extends beyond the immediacy of engagement with the animation into those children’s adult lives as parents will find that Leia’s character offers the opportunity for them to discuss leadership with their children. Despite the political nature of Leia’s leadership in the Star Wars universe, where she is fighting against Imperialism, many of the popular accounts present this leadership (and leadership more generally) as politically neutral.  Rosenberg (2015) challenges this, by suggesting that Leia is an explicitly political character who manages to persuade the apolitical men in her life, particularly Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, to join the resistance and become political actors. More interestingly, while many of the popular media pieces deny Leia’s political activism, they also deny her gendered position as an often lone female leader in a male universe.   Naidu (2017) further states that Leia demonstrates the pragmatism, empathy, decisiveness and bravery required of a leader, while arguing that leadership is not a gendered concept.  In contrast, there is a wealth of academic literature going back to the 1990s (Eagly and Johnson, 1990) which clearly articulates that leadership is a gendered issue. A recent special issue editorial from Leith and Stead (2016) sets out the history of the close association between leadership and masculinity and the power structures which underpin leadership and how it is understood. Leadership has historically been understood as an essentially masculine trait, with the examinations of the relatively rare women leaders based on essentialist views of femininities (Stead and Elliot, 2009). Although much of the extant literature on women’s leadership assumes that women leader differently to men, this is rarely born out in the literature (Bierema, 2016), although some evidence suggests that women are more likely to adopt a transformative leadership style (Eagly, 2015). Transformative leadership is a leadership style committed to an ethical and moral approach that is shared by leader and followers (Caldwell et al., 2012; Sheilds, 2010). Put simply, transformative leadership is orientated towards changing and ending inequitable practices. Turning back to Leia, and Carrie Fisher, there are numerous examples where we can see a commitment to overcoming inequity. Leia’s existence throughout all her films is closely tied to fighting oppressive imperialist forces. In her own life Carrie was committed to raising awareness of mental health conditions, and the sexualisation of women’s bodies in the media (Loughrey, 2017). However, presenting this as transformative leadership, without acknowledging the explicitly feminist position adopted by Fisher in challenging how women are treated within the media and associated employment misses the opportunity to explore both leadership and Fisher’s legacy for women. One route to understanding this is to turn our attention away from the masculine trait-based approaches to leadership towards two newly developing areas of leadership theory, that of performativity and feminist leadership.  

The literature on feminist leadership is sparse, with a few notable exceptions. This section sets out extant understandings of leadership and gender, with specific emphasis on Butlerian understandings of performativity, moving to feminist leadership. Noting the lack of literature on feminist leadership, the chapter draws on distributed leadership which shares a similar emphasis on social justice.  

Galloway et al (2015) revealed the importance of moving away from understandings of leadership which rely on masculine models of leadership traits which promote a heroic lone male leader.   One area where such efforts have been focussed is distributed leadership, which is defined in a variety of ways within the literature (Tian et al., 2016). A key element of distributed leadership is that leadership is not solely located within the senior levels of a hierarchy (Spillane, 2005), with leadership acts enacted by followers (Collinson, 2005). Distributed leadership is a focus on the process of leadership, rather than its end goals (Spillane, 2005) which links with recent debates that leadership should be viewed as what leaders do, rather than innate traits. Moving further away from understanding leadership as an innate trait or traits, recent work has seen leadership through a poststructuralist lens, drawing on performativity. Butler (1988) argues that gender is performative, in that gender is the resulted of repeated acts and continual doing. These acts do not precede the doing, rather gender is ‘performed into being’ (Windmayer, 2017:64). What does it then mean for leadership to be performative?  Galloway et al (2015) suggest that leadership can be understood through a Butlerian feminist lens of performativity which allows leadership to be seen, not as innate, but as something which is enacted. As such, leadership, like gender, does not exist prior to its enactment or performance. Conceptualising leadership as a trait based approach requires an essentialist perspective, however, a performativity approach creates the space to explore leadership as it is done and its construction through that doing. A focus on the ongoing performativity of gender also opens avenues for novel research approaches which are more sensitive to the ongoing (re)constitution of both gender and leadership.   

There remain debates on how leadership can be empirically understood and researched. Galloway et al (2015) suggest that cultural artefacts are helpful for understanding leadership, particularly to reveal gendered performativity in relation to leadership. Kapasi et al (2016) analysed cultural artefacts, in this case autobiographies of women leaders, to reveal that women’s leadership is constructed to mirror societally preferred feminine attributes e.g. familial concerns. Clover et al (2017) suggest it is important to move away from the idea of feminine leadership which is rooted in socially constructed ideals of femininity, towards a feminist leadership which they state is post-heroic. As such, it is important to draw a distinction between women leaders, and feminist leadership (Chin, 2004).  

Chin (2004) identified four components of feminist leadership, as linked to leadership as a form of empowerment.  

  1. Creating a feminist agenda 
     
  1. Promoting feminist policies 
     
  1. Changing organisational cultures to be more gender equitable 
     
  1. Empowering women as feminist leaders.  
     

In addition, Cover and McGregor (2016) argue that feminist leaders disrupt accepted norms, sometimes disobeying authority. Similarly to distributed leadership, feminist leadership forces an examination of the processes of leadership not its end goal (Clover et al.2017). This is contra to Chin’s (2004) definition where the end goal of feminist leadership, a shift in organisational cultures towards gender equality, is explicitly stated. Further Clover et al (2017) argue that feminist leadership is committed to working across oppressed social groups, acting as allies to oppressed groups.  

While transformative leadership has the goal of overcoming inequalities, feminist leadership could be seen as a form of distributed leadership with the specific goals of ending gender based oppression, with the empowerment of future women leaders a desired outcome. The chapter now turns to a consideration of feminism, feminist leadership and Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia.  

Leia/Fisher as feminist leader 

The four elements of feminist leadership set out by Chin (2004) overlap to the extent that it is difficult to discuss each in turn. However the following sections set out how Leia and Fisher can be seen to be performing leadership in ways which correspond with Chin’s (2004) and Clover and McGregor’s (2016) conceptualisation of feminist leadership. I focus specifically on the aspects of setting a feminist agenda, empowering women as feminist leaders, and disrupting norms and disobedience.  

Setting a feminist agenda 

If we look at Princess Leia/General Organa, it is not straightforward to suggest that a feminist leadership style is enacted. Leia/Organa does not actively pursue an agenda of gender equality. However, if we understand feminist leadership to be concerned with an examination and undoing of patriarchal power structures (Chin, 2004), a different perspective can be taken. For LeBlanc (2017) Princess Leia was the first feminist in the Star Wars universe, moving to introduce Leia Feminism whose adherents ‘want the adventure, equal power, but also autonomy, and then love.’ (p. 7). However, as Doctor (2017) points out, the Star Wars universe has historically relied on a traditional view of a hero’s journey, one which is implicitly male. The male hero’s journey is subverted in The Force Awakens, away from one of a personal quest for inner development, towards one which is motivated by a desire to support others in overcoming oppression (Doctor, 2017). As such we can see that Leia’s life’s purpose has become leading The Resistance to defeat the oppressive Empire, the relics of which form The First Order in the more recent films.  

Empowering women as feminist leaders 

Within the Star Wars universe we can see in the more recent film the emergence of a number of women leaders who are orientated towards dismantling the oppression of the The First Order (the resurgence of the Empire defeated in The Return of the Jedi). Leia is not the only woman leader in the Star Wars franchise who may perform feminist leadership, especially if we turn to The Last Jedi.  

In the The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, the viewers are exposed for the first time to women within the Resistance who are inspired by Leia. General Hordo, Rose Tico and Rey as the main character in both films. One example is the newly introduced character of Admiral Holdo who is Organa’s Vice Admiral and hinted to have led Resistance fighters in previous battles. During The Last Jedi, the remaining Resistance fleet face the First Order under the leadership of Holdo after the rest of the High Command are either killed or left incapacity.  

Admiral Holdo addresses the remaining Resistance fighters: 

We’re the very last of the Resistance But we’re not alone. In every corner of the galaxy… the downtrodden and oppressed know our symbol… and they put their hope in it. We are the spark that will ignite the fire that will restore the Republic. That spark… this Resistance, must survive.  

Here we see Admiral Holdo, who is inspired by Leia, express an explicit agenda to overcome oppression.  Holdo eventually sacrifices her own life not only to protect the Resistance fighters, but to ensure that the fight against oppression can continue. Collinson (2005) reflects that distributed leadership, as understood by post-structuralist feminist scholars, helps us to understand the blurring of leader/follower, power/resistance dialectics. We can see this within The Last Jedi, as Leia and Holdo are both leaders, although Holdo is Leia’s follower. Further, they blur the boundaries of power and resistance, as both hold positions of hierarchical power within The Resistance. However, neither resist the power dynamics of the Resistance, instead embracing their senior positions and exerting the power they hold through the militaristic Resistance’s hierarchy. This illustrates the tensions, which are evident within feminist leadership, or distributed leadership; namely that of occupying a position of power while working to disrupt power relations. This is particularly evident for Holdo and Organa as they are senior within a militarily organised hierarchy. Sasson-Levy (2003) in her analysis of women serving in the Israeli armed forces demonstrated that similar tensions could be found in these ‘real-life’ experiences. Women in serving in the armed forces simultaneously challenge the masculine norms of military service with their presence, while reinforcing and complying with the power structures which underpin their position in the hierarchy. So, while Fisher’s character of Leia, and Laura Dern’s character of Holdo may be seen as challenging militaristic norms by their presence as women, their authority is rooted in their position within what viewers may code as a masculine hierarchy. Neither women challenge those hierarchies per se, rather they exert power and influence through them. Such tensions may suggest that Leia’s leadership cannot be seen as feminist as those empowered, such as Holdo, are empowered through existing power structures. However, we also see Leia empowering Rey who is a woman whose efforts to dismantle the First Order lie outside of the militaristic hierarchies seen within The Resistance. Further, Rey unlike Leia, is not a member of a societal elite. In contrast to Leia’s position at the pinnacle of military hierarchy, Fisher’s leadership was far less formalised albeit linked to her family’s prestige within the film industry. This is discussed in more detail later in the chapter.  

Feminist leaders may need to adapt their leadership styles to accommodate men who are intimidated by women leaders (Chin, 2004). Neither Carrie Fisher nor General Organa do this. We see in all the films that Leia is confident in her position and as suggested earlier not only does she not change her style or position to accommodate men, she is able to persuade men to her position. Fisher’s uncompromising and public lifelong battle and relationship with Bipolar disorder. As Loughrey (2017) reminds us, Fisher wanted us to embrace our full selves, and not pretend to be something we are not. In contrast to Leia,  Fisher may not have articulated herself as a leader, it is clear she was read as a leader by her ‘followers’ and that through her open discussion of her life and its challenges she did not compromise herself (in later years at least) to accommodate men who were intimidated by her.  

Feminist leadership is diverse, with race, ethnicity, disability and other sources of (dis)advantage intersecting with gender (Chin, 2004). How does Carrie Fisher’s bipolar disorder intersect with gender for feminist leadership? As discussed above, Fisher’s relationship with bipolar disorder was a complex one, and a relationship she did not conceal or shy away from discussing. In 2016 Fisher became an Agony Aunt for the British newspaper, the Guardian. In this column Fisher shared her own experiences from across an, at times, turbulent life marked by public success and also addictions. On the 30th November, 2016 a column was published where a member of the public and written to Fisher asking for advice on how to find peace after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Fisher responds, setting out her own dual diagnosis of alcoholism and bipolar disorder and the usefulness of support groups. Later in the response we can see a hint towards a more explicit idea of leadership.  

Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.’ (Fisher, 2016 online).  

Here Fisher explicitly articulates that she views (or encourages others to view) a difficulty as an opportunity to be heroic and to inspire others to follow. We can see evidence that, for Fisher, leadership was not held, or from a performative standpoint, enacted by one lone heroic person. Rather, she espoused a desire to empower others to enact leadership as well.  

We see that in The Last Jedi, heroism is not the work of a lone man, rather, heroism is a team effort led by women (King, 2017). For example, General Organa (Leia) and Admiral Holdo have to collaborate in order to provide the resistance with its only hope for survival. As such we see that leadership is not the act of one person, rather it is collaborative.  

As Windmayer (2017)  notes, for many feminists, General Organa became the symbol associated with the feminist leadership of Leia, and in turn, Fisher. It was the ‘older’ image of General Organa was seen to reflect agency and resilience. Further, it was this image that was seen to move both Fisher and Leia from sexual object, to feminist resistance leader. On social media, Windmayer (2017), a call to arms was issued for all to enact Fisher’s/Organa’s feminist leadership in their own lives to secure Fisher’s legacy.  

Fisher’s openness about her mental health condition forms an integral aspect of her legacy (Windmayer, 2017). Fisher’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder, coupled with her global profile resulted in her featuring as an example of the disorder an in abnormal psychology textbook, albeit with a picture of Princess Leia rather than Fisher herself (Fisher, 2009) remarking ‘So I’m not crazy, that bitch is. Anyone who would wear a hairstyle like that has to be nuts! Right?’ (p116).  

In this sense, engaging with Fisher’s legacy allows Fisher herself to stick around a little longer, reminding fans over and over again to stand up, fight and ‘take not shit.’ (Windmayer, 2017:73).  

Audience participation in the Star Wars universe is a vital aspect of its sustainability and appeal (Doctor, 2017). We see this participation in a range of formats, including the appropriation of images and phrases from Star Wars used in contemporary resistance movements, interspersed with the disruption of traditional gendered phrases. As an example, ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ becomes ‘a woman’s place is in the resistance’. Although Carrie Fisher died at the end of 2016, she and Leia were in the minds of many who took part in the Women’s March on the 21st January, 2017 following the inauguration of Donald Trump as the President of the United States.  

Disrupting norms and disobedience.  

Clover and McGregor (2016) expand Chin’s (2004) conceptualisation of feminist leadership, suggesting that feminist leaders also disrupt (masculine) norms and engage in disobedience. Both Fisher and Leia can be seen as disrupting norms, including social norms and being disobedient.  

As Henthorn (2013) recounts, Leia is introduced to the audience as a rebel and a leader. In A New Hope, we are introduced to Princess Leia who does not exhibit the daintiness expected of a princess, instead she answers back to power (LeBlanc, 2017): 

‘Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board’ (Lucas, 1976).  

From our first meeting with Leia (at least in the order of the films as they were released, rather than in order in the story arc), our first engagement with Leia in person is one of rebellion. Depsite her position as a ‘princess’ we see her challenging power and soon after Leia is defending herself and her male ‘rescuers’ from danger. This challenging of traditional (in the viewers’ minds) gender roles continues in later films. In The Empire Strikes Back, Leia excels in her leadership skills (LeBlanc, 2017:16): 

Therefore, Leia Feminism incorporates self-sufficiency, an authoritative tone, equality, and leadership skills without being bitchy, along with the previous mentioned qualities of liberated, strong, and not sexually objectified.’ 

For LeBlanc (2017) Leia does not exhibit stereotypical gender norms for women, particularly ‘bitchiness’ and despite Fisher’s, and Leia’s subsequent sexualised position she is not objectified.  As such we can see leadership moving away from the lone heroic male leader and away from socially constructed feminine norms (Clover et al., 2017). However, Fisher herself was notably uncomfortable with the objectification she experienced as Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. Notably the scene where Leia is held prisoner by Jabba the Hut. Subsequently Fisher warned incoming Star Wars actor Daisy Ridley “Don’t be a slave like I was… You keep fighting against that slave outfit.” (quoted by Hibberd, 2015 no page number). However, Fisher’s relationship to the iconic gold bikini costume was complex, with her also defending the costume when it was criticised by parents’ groups (ibid). As such we see Fisher both empowering a younger actor in the Star Wars universe to avoid the objectification associated with Leia, but also defending the costume and possibly herself from criticisms which emerged years after The Empire Strikes Back was released. Thus, both Fisher and Leia simultaneously challenge and reinforce certain gendered norms.  

In the more recent films, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Leia has become General Organa and is no longer a sexualised character although the challenging of gendered norms is sustained. Leia as Organa continues to openly challenge male authority. This is exemplified when Poe challenges General Organa’s leadership following a failed attack on the First Order: 

LEIA: Poe, get your head out of your cockpit. There are things you cannot solve… By jumping into an X-wing and blowing something up! I need you to learn that. 

POE: There were heroes on that mission. 

LEIA: Dead heroes, No leaders. (Johnson, 2017) 

We see Leia’s influence in challenging traditionally male leadership models of the lone hero (Galloway et al., 2015) extending to other characters who not white or male. There are characters within The Last Jedi who exhibit forms of heroism, for example, Paige Tico who pilots a bombardier on what becomes a suicide mission. This is in sharp contrast to Poe who leads others to their deaths. As Leia says ‘Dead heroes’. 

We see that Poe continues in his attempt to assert authority over a woman who has hierarchal seniority when he encounters General Hordo who takes over from General Organa after her injuries sustained following a First Order attack on the Resistance Fleet.  

POE: “Captain.” “Commander.” You can call me whatever you like. I just want to know what’s going on. 

AMILYN HOLDO: Of course you do. I understand. I’ve dealt with plenty of trigger happy flyboys like you… You are impulsive. Dangerous. And the last thing we need right now. So stick to your post… and follow my orders. (Johnson, 2017).  

Leia subverts patriarchal norms throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, by mocking her male captors and rescuers, with her independence, outspoken behaviour and active participation in The Resistance (Dominguez, 2007). However, as Kondo (1990) notes, conformity and resistance are not distinct categories, and we should not expect anyone engage in resistance to be 100% authentic, as resistance and conformity with vary across time and space. As already argued both Leia and Fisher simultaneously resist and conform gendered norms.   

As suggested earlier, Fisher’s position within the film industry was facilitated by her family’s prestigious positions. Fisher was a Hollywood insider, the child of two famous parents Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (Fisher, 2009). Unlike Leia who could be argued to disrupt power relations by her presence as a woman in masculinised military hierarchy (admittedly as a Princess),  Fisher was part of the establishment from birth, as such her presence was not in itself the disruption Clover and McGregor (2016) argue is part of feminist leadership.  

Fisher’s relationship with feminism and subsequent disrupting of power structures within Hollywood is not straightforward. In Wishful Drinking (Fisher, 2009), we learn that Fisher went along with powerful gender norms in her early career: 

Shortly after I arrived [on set for Star Wars: A New Hope], George [Lucas] gave me this unbelievably idiotic hairstyle, and I’m brought before him like some sacrificial asshole and he says in his little voice. “Well what do you think of it?” And I say – because I’m terrified I’m going to be fired for being too fat – I say, “ I love it”…Because see, there was this horrible fat thing going on!…when I got this job they told me I had to lose 10 pounds. Well I weighed about 105 at the time, but to be fair, I carried about fifty of those pounds on my face!’ (Fisher, 2009: 83-84).  

Here we can see that Fisher, at the time did not feel she was able to challenge a powerful male figure in part due to her perceived precarious employment position related to her weight. This was despite her social position as a member of the Hollywood establishment.  

Later in her life, Fisher actively challenged powerful men in Hollywood. Screenwriter Heather Robinson recounted her experience when she informed Fisher that a powerful Hollywood executive had engaged in sexual misconduct. Reported in The Guardian (Mumford, 2017), Fisher sent the producer a Tiffany’s jewellery box with a cow’s tongue inside and a covering note of what would happen should he touch Robinson or another woman again. Here we can see Fisher engaging in multiple features of feminist leadership including working to eradicate power structures which marginalise women.  

As discussed earlier, while the presentation of Princess Leia was, at times, sexualised for example during her imprisonment by Jabba the Hut in The Empire Strikes back, Duchesne (2010) suggests Fisher’s portrayal has been empowering for women. Specifically, Duchesne (2010) argues that the iconic bikini scenes have been subverted not only by Leia when she overpowers her captor, but by subsequent cos-player women.  

For some heterosexual men, Widmayer (2017) notes, Leia and Fisher were associated with early sexual awakenings. In contrast, for ‘other men and women mourned a feminist and a mental health activist, a ‘mouthy woman’ woman who pushed back against the sexism of Hollywood and a character who literally fought the patriarch’ (p51).  We can see here that both Fisher and Leia are perceived to enact aspects of feminist leadership relating to challenging of patriarchal power structures (Chin, 2004) and disobeying and disrupting leadership norms (Clover and McGregor, 2016).  

Conclusions 

Leadership theory is moving beyond a trait based approach exemplified by the lone heroic male. In this chapter I have drawn on Butler’s (1988) theory of performativity to consider feminist leadership as conceptualised by Chin (2004) and Clover and McGregor (2016). It is clear that although Carrie Fisher played a number of different characters in films, she is mostly closely associated with (and most closely associated herself) with Princess Leia/General Organa. This association is so close that the lines between the person (Fisher) and the character (Leia) are blurred and at times they may be impossible to disentangle. By considering drawing on Fisher’s own words, the story arc of Star Wars and fan responses to both, this chapter has demonstrated that although Fisher and Leia do both enact feminist leadership, this is at times in tension with conforming the gender norms and other power structures. We can see then that feminist leadership is not straightforward. As with both Leia and Fisher, their potential to be feminist leaders stems at least in part from their privileged positions within their relative worlds (Star Wars and Hollywood). At times the both resist gender norms, but also comply. As with many engaged in social justice work, resistance and conformity do not exist in opposition with each other in either Fisher or Leia. Rather, as Kondo (1990) shows us both exist simultaneously and resistance and conformity may occur at different times and in different ways across a person’s life.  

In the introduction I established that I am not a neutral or apolitical observer for the purposes of this chapter. I am a feminist academic and activist, working to overcome gendered inequalities. I am inspired in this work by many women, including both Leia and Carrie Fisher. While I have pointed out the tensions in both Leia and Fisher’s life between conformity and resistance, this is meant in no way to undermine the importance or legacy of either women. Rather, as Fisher herself argued, we must be the entirety of ourselves and embrace who we are. Many of us will recognise Fisher’s pain at the criticism of our appearance, while recognising that as feminists this should not be something we are concerned with or complicit in. I hope this chapter has helped to show Fisher and Leia to be the feminist leaders many of us see them to be. Despite Carrie Fisher’s death, her influence and her leadership continue to empower and inspire. As Fisher said, shortly before her death in 2016 Now get out there and show me and you what you can do.’ (Fisher, 2016 no page numbers).  

Page BreakReferences 

Johnson, R (2017). The Last Jedi. Source: 

https://transcripts.fandom.com/wiki/Star_Wars_Episode_VIII:_The_Last_Jedi

Anonymous (2019) Princess Leia’s leadership: a Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures Guide.   

https://www.starwars.com/news/princess-leia-star-wars-galaxy-of-adventures-guide last updated 18th January 2019. Accessed 29th January 2019.  

Bierema, L. L. (2016). Women’s leadership: Troubling notions of the “ideal”(male) leader. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 18(2), 119-136. 

Butler, J. (1988). Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory. Theatre journal40(4), 519-531. 

Caldwell, C., Dixon, R. D., Floyd, L. A., Chaudoin, J., Post, J., & Cheokas, G. (2012). Transformative leadership: Achieving unparalleled excellence. Journal of Business Ethics, 109(2), 175-187.   

Chin, J. L. (2004). 2003 Division 35 presidential address: Feminist leadership: Feminist visions and diverse voices. Psychology of Women Quarterly28(1), 1-8. 

Clover, D. E., Etmanski, C., & Reimer, R. (2017). Gendering Collaboration: Adult Education in Feminist Leadership. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education2017(156), 21-31. 

Clover, D. E., & McGregor, C., (2016). Making waves: Feminist and indigenous women’s leadership. In D. E. Clover, S. Butterwick, & L. Collins (Eds.), Women, adult education and leadership in Canada (pp. 17–28). Toronto: Thompson Educational. 

Collinson, D. (2005). Dialectics of leadership. Human relations, 58(11), 1419-1442. 

Doctor, P. (2017). The Force Awakens: the Individualistic and Contemporary Heroine. New American Notes Online, 12 (online journal, no page numbers) https://nanocrit.com/issues/issue12  

Dominguez, D. (2007). Feminism and the Force: Empowerment and Disillusionment in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Culture, Identities, and Technology in the, 109-133. 

Duchesne, S. (2010). Stardom/fandom: Celebrity and fan tribute performance. Canadian Theatre Review, (141), 21-27. 

Eagly, A. H., & Johnson, B. T. (1990). Gender and leadership style: A meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 108(2), 233. 

Eagly, A. H. (2015). Foreward. In S. R. Madsen, F. W. Ngunjiri, K. A. Longman, & C. Cherrey (Eds.), Women and leadership around the world (pp. ix-xiii). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing 

Fisher, C. (2009). Wishful drinking. Simon and Schuster. 

Fisher, C. (2011). Shockaholic. Simon and Schuster. 

Fisher, C. (2016). Ask Carrie Fisher: I#m bipolar – how do you feel at peace with mental illness. 30th November, 2016 

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/30/carrie-fisher-advice-column-mental-illness-bipolar-disorder

Fisher, C. (2017). The Princess Diarist. Penguin. London.  

Galloway, L., Kapasi, I., & Sang, K. (2015). Entrepreneurship, leadership, and the value of feminist approaches to understanding them. Journal of Small Business Management53(3), 683-692. 

Henthorn, T (2013). Boys to Men: Medievalism and Masculinity in Star Wars and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. In Driver, M. W., & Ray, S. (Eds.). (2013). The medieval hero on screen: representations from Beowulf to Buffy. McFarland. Pages 73-89 

Hibberd, J, (2015). Carrie Fisher warns new Star Wars actress: ‘Don’t be a slave like I was’. 30th October, 2015. Entertainment Weekly https://ew.com/article/2015/10/30/carrie-fisher-daisy-ridley-slave-leia/ 

Kapasi, I., Sang, K. J., & Sitko, R. (2016). Gender, authentic leadership and identity: analysis of women leaders’ autobiographies. Gender in Management: An International Journal31(5/6), 339-358. 

King, T. (2017) The Last Jedi is the first properly feminist Star Wars. The New Statesman. 19th December 2017 

https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/film/2017/12/last-jedi-first-properly-feminist-star-wars Last accessed 5th September 2018.  

Kondo, D. (1990). Crafting selves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lincoln, Y., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills: Sage. 

LEBLANC, S. S. (2017). Taking Back the “P-Word”: Princess Leia Feminism, an Autoethnography. The Popular Culture Studies Journal, 5 (1&2). 5-23. 

Leitch, C., & Stead, V. (2016). Special Issue of Leadership: gender and leadership. Leadership, 12(1), 127-128. 

Loughrey, C. (2017). Carrie Fisher was a hero to all women, an example of how to be utterly fearless to the end. The Independent. 27th December, 2017.  https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/carrie-fisher-dead-star-wars-hero-princess-leia-writer-script-doctor-a7498051.html  

Lucas, G. (1976). Star Wars IV: A New Hope. Retrieved from https://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Star-Wars-A-New-Hope.html 

Manning, J., & Adams, T. E. (2015). Popular culture studies and autoethnography: An essay on method. The Popular Culture Studies Journal, 3, 187-221. 

Mumford, G. (2017). Carrie Fisher gave predatory producer a cow’s tongue in a box. The Guardian, 17th October, 2017. 

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/17/carrie-fisher-gave-predatory-producer-cows-tongue-heather-robinson (last accessed 5th September, 2018).  

Naidu, V. (2017). Leadership lessons from Princess Leia.  

 https://leaderonomics.com/leadership/leadership-lessons-princess-leia Last updated, 10th March, 2017. Accessed 29/1/19 

Rosenberg, A. (2015). Princess Leia, political icon. The Washington Post, 4th May, 2015. (accessed 29th January 2019). 

Sasson‐Levy, O. (2003). Feminism and military gender practices: Israeli women soldiers in “masculine” roles. Sociological Inquiry, 73(3), 440-465. 

Shields, C. M. (2010). Transformative leadership: Working for equity in diverse contexts. Educational administration quarterly, 46(4), 558-589. 

Spillane, J. P. (2005, June). Distributed leadership. In The educational forum (Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 143-150). Taylor & Francis Group. 

Stead, V., & Elliott, C. (2009). Women’s leadership: sociological constructions of women’s leadership. Springer. London 

Tian, M., Risku, M., & Collin, K. (2016). A meta-analysis of distributed leadership from 2002 to 2013: Theory development, empirical evidence and future research focus. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 44(1), 146-164. 

Widmayer, C. J. (2017). The Feminist Strikes Back: Performative Mourning in the Twitter Response to Carrie Fisher’s Death. New Directions in Folklore15(1/2), 50-76. 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Unpaid care work before, during and after COVID-19

While the impact of homeschooling on women’s participation at work has received considerable attention across the media, the role of unpaid caring for an adult has received scant attention. The purpose of this research is to better understand the relationship between unpaid caring or care work and paid employment. The study has received full ethical approval from Heriot Watt University and asks a range of questions about your experiences of providing unpaid care for a relative or friend.

Participation in the survey is entirely voluntary, and no identifiable information is collected. Each question is voluntary, and you may skip any questions which you would prefer not to answer. Any identifiable information e.g. names of individuals or organisations such as employers will be removed from the final data to ensure anonymity. 

The research will be used to inform publications, for example, blog posts, journal and conference papers. The data may also be used as a pilot study for a larger funded project. 
If you have any questions regarding the study please contact the lead researcher Professor Kate Sang (k.sang@hw.ac.uk).

The survey can be found here

Managing gynaecological health during COVID-19 – a short survey

 

Professor Kate Sang, Edinburgh Business School, Heriot Watt University, k.sang@hw.ac.uk 

 

Thank you for your interest in this short study investigating the effects of COVID-19 and the lockdown on your experiences of managing employment and gynaecological health conditions. The study will make use of a survey, which should take between 15 and 30 minutes to complete. The data will be fully anonymised and stored safely on the Heriot Watt University secure servers. The survey can be found here [link to survey]. 

Important ethical information 

 

  1. The data will be fully anonymised and securely stored 
  1. Your participation is entirely voluntary and you can withdraw at any time 
  1. The anonymised data may be used to inform research outputs such as a report. No individual or organisation will be identifiable in these outputs  
  1. We anticipate conducting follow up interviews. If you are interested in taking part, please provide a contact email address.  

Use of your data (for more information contact Data Protection Officer contact details: dataprotection@hw.ac.uk 

Heriot Watt’s policy on research participants’ data can be found here https://www.hw.ac.uk/uk/services/information-governance/protect/privacy-and-your-data-rights.htm 

A day in the life of an academic: ‘most of the time I can cope with it, but not when I’ve got my period’

A day in the life of an academic with heavy periods

 

Based on survey data with approximately 600 academics living and working in the UK, I have presented a short day in the life of an academic who is experiencing heavy periods. This is not one person’s story, rather it is a fictionalised account of Susie’s first day of her period. It represents the feelings and experiences of a number of survey respondents. Susie is a casualised academic, who identifies as a cisgender woman. She is on a low income, and is experiencing period poverty.

 

‘My job is pretty full on. I often work until 10pm at night and do about 8 hours of work at the weekend on top of 9 to 5 hours during the week. And, that’s just to keep up my head above water. Most of the time I can cope with it, but not when I’ve got my period.

 

Sometimes I wake up with a familiar dragging feeling in my belly, and am exhausted. Not just tired like we all are, but I can barely get out of bed. But I have to because I’m teaching and I can’t miss that. The pain starts, and I’m doubled over, but I only take half of pain medication because I can’t afford to get my prescription filled every month. It’s enough to get me to work and to my first lecture. I get there and see that there’s no chair for me in the lecture hall, and I’ve got to give a two hour lecture standing up. Although I get through it, I’m scared the whole time. What if I bleed through my tampon and students see the blood? How will I keep any semblance of a professional status with the students if they see I’m bleeding? By the end of the lecture I’m exhausted, in pain and just want to go home. I go to the nearest women’s bathroom but it doesn’t have any disposal bins. None do in our building. So I have to wrap my tampon up in toilet paper and carry it around with me. Sometimes I run out of tampons or towels at work, and there’s nowhere for me to get any so I make a pad out of toilet roll. I’ll have to borrow money from my Mum to get some more tampons later.

 

Other days I have to call in sick. I just can’t focus and I’m in too much pain. I tell my boss that I’ve got a migraine or the flu. There’s just no way I can talk to him about my periods. I’ve had to change my job so that I don’t do field work anymore. My boss kept organising field trips for the students, but he’d never book a coach with an on-board bathroom or stop for comfort breaks. I just can’t go that long without access to a bathroom to change my tampon or my pad. I’m worried they think I’m unreliable at work, but I can’t talk to my colleagues. They’re all men and would be so embarrassed.

 

I sit in 3 hour long meetings, and I wait until everyone else leaves the room before I stand up. Just to make sure there’s no blood on my dress. I’m getting close to the menopause which makes it so much worse. My periods come without warning and I sometimes flood. I’ve not had a disaster at work yet.

 

When I get home I’m exhausted and still in pain. I can use my heat pad at home, no one asks why I’ve got it. So I curl up with it, and hug my cat. Tomorrow I can work from home and I’ll have everything I need. I’m lucky though, only the first two days of my period are like this. Usually.’

 

Written by Kate Sang, a Professor of Gender and Employment Studies at Heriot Watt University.

 

 

 

 

Interviewing for a lectureship (and beyond!)

I have been in the very fortunate position to sit on a lot of UK academic (and professional services) interview panels, whether that is for a new job or even for a promotion. I have been struck by how similar the interviews are, even across the various institutions where I have also been the interviewee. It’s hard to know what interviews are like for any posts until you do the interview yourself, so I thought it might be helpful to note down some of the things panels are looking for. Of course, this is based on my own experience so I don’t intend to make generalisations and I know it’s not comprehensive, but I hope it is helpful. I am by no means the first person to write such a post and I think that Dr Charles Knight’s post is a lot better than mine!

Before the interview

It’s pretty likely that the panel will ask why you want the particular job and why you want to work at the University of WhereTheJobIs. It’s very important to research the institution you want to work at. Identify the teams you want to work with (teaching or research), show how your teaching and/or research will fit including any gaps you can fill. Some of this may come from the job spec (e.g. ‘we are looking for someone to teach introduction to such and such’), or you may be able to work it out for yourself from the website. The panel wants to know you have taken the time to look up the institution you’re trying to get a job at, you know something about it and what you can bring. This might seem obvious, but I have sat on a number of panels where the interviewees didn’t know anything about the University, school or institute. If the University of WhereTheJobIs is in the best city in the world, the panel already know this – they work there! So, if your reason for working there are the city its in, maybe don’t mention it at all, or mention at the end with a smile. Give an indication of where the job fits into your career now – for example, is it a temporary teaching post of a year or two and you want to develop teaching experience? Perhaps you’re looking for a job where you can have more scope to apply for research funding or to lead your own team.

During the interview

I think it’s helpful to take a copy of your application with you, but I rarely see applicants do this. It’s always something I have done, so I can point to parts of my application and CV and show where it’s been developed since submission (e.g. has a research grant been funded, paper accepted etc). It is a bit awkward in an interview for the panel to have to share a copy of your CV with you so you can talk to it.

Be prepared to answer questions about what your contribution is. This can be research, teaching and service/citizenship/administration. Lets take these in turn, but bear in mind the balance of these will be different for different roles.

Research – What is the contribution of your research to theory, practice, policy (depending on the interests of the institution)? Give examples of this contribution. For early career posts, what will your contribution be? Be prepared to give a summary of what your first grant application will be and what for (this shows awareness of the funding landscape, ability to develop fundable research including design) and what the impact of this work will be. Impact in terms of your own career path, the school’s research future and also the discipline. Give the names of people in the school/institute you want to work with. If you can show interdisciplinary awareness this may go even further with the panel, given the increased interest in crossing disciplinary panels. Show the panel your 5 to 10 year research plan. You won’t be held to it once appointed, but it shows planning and ambition. It’s also useful to show your plans for developing & leading a research team e.g. Ph.D. recruitment, postdocs, developing less experienced colleagues. If this is an open-ended post you need to show how you will improve and enhance the school’s research culture and performance

Teaching – give examples of curriculum design and innovations in your teaching (i.e. show you can identify a problem, work out how to solve it, implement that and then evaluate its success). If you haven’t engaged in this work yet, that’s ok – the panel have read your CV! You can talk about where you want your teaching to go. Show how you use student feedback to improve your practice (panels want to hear you know the importance of feedback, and what to do with it). There’s a good chance you will be asked how you engage students – give examples of what you would do or currently do.

Give an indication of how technology might be useful, for example, with small versus large classes. If you have never taught before, the panel knows so you can give an educated guess! If you can refer to any pedagogical literature or your own experiences as a student this lends some weight to these educated guesses. My advice here is to be precise and give tangible examples. Teaching matters a lot and the panel will also be wondering how you may come across to a room full of students. Depending on the institution show links between your research and teaching, for example, how your industry or public sector links could give guest lectures to your students, or present real-world problems for students to solve. Another key aspect is to demonstrate understanding of assessment and feedback, so if you have experience of designing assessments make that clear.

You may well be asked about personal tutoring and pastoral care of students, for example, how would you support a student who comes to you with issues which are affecting their academic performance which are related to their personal life. Be prepared to demonstrate an awareness that your role is to point the student to the relevant university support and provide ongoing practical support.

Administration/service/citizenship – You can show your contribution here too, although, I am struck by how many newer entrants to academic careers are unfamiliar with the various admin & leadership roles which exist within universities. Find out before the interview and have a plan for where you’d like your career to go. Are you hoping to be a research centre leader, for example, or keen to become a degree programme leader or develop a new degree programme. While the exact job title names will vary across employers, the roles are broadly the same.

Be prepared to answer questions relating your leadership experiences or plans. Show some awareness of what leadership looks like (e.g. mentoring PhD students, leading a staff committee, running a cake stall, charity work) and why it matters. Show that you’re going to be a positive contribution to the department, school, university etc. It’s great if you can talk about taking your work outside the university, perhaps you want to lead on community engagement work, or liaising with parliament.

At the end of the interview

Good questions relate to support for career plans, developing teaching, research. It’s interesting that workload is often asked about, although that is broadly similar across types of HEIs, but can be phrased alongside support esp for early career entrants.

Overall top tips are to be concise, precise and give examples. It is perfectly ok to take a notepad to write down the questions so you don’t lose track (or maybe it’s just me that starts to burble and then forgets what the question was). If you can’t remember the question, or don’t understand it – ask! One good piece of advice I got was to write down about 5 things I really wanted to get across in an interview – whether that a job interview or research bid, and make sure I get them across. Even if I have to say them at the end. It’s ok to be nervous, everyone is whether they are interviewing for their first lectureship or for professor. I know this looks like a lot, but really it’s about a 40 minute interview (if that). If it’s a teaching-focused role, then the research may not be relevant (or may be framed as scholarship e.g. pedagogical research, new textbook).

I hope this helps. It was longer than I anticipated – much like my answers in interviews – something I have to work on!

UCU, USS & industrial action #StrikeForUSS

It seems like only yesterday that UCU called its members out on strike. In fact it was about 18 months ago and that time our pay was under negotiation. After years of very low pay rises, which amounted to real terms pay cuts, members came out to try to push for a more reasonable pay offer. Truth be told, I don’t think we were particularly successful. That makes the call to strike again a difficult one. Will we have any more success this time?

I hope so because the pensions crisis is, in someways, more serious than the pay rises. For those of us who rely on our salaries and pensions to live, a threat to move away from a modest defined pension benefit to a very risk defined contribution is frightening. I am frightened of a retirement spent on an income which pushes me considerably below the poverty line. As a woman, I already know my pension is likely to be worse due to persistent pay inequalities in universities. I look at the models put forward and I see my projected annual income fall below £13k – I wonder what £13k per annum will cover in 30 years time. If I can retire then. If there is any state pension left by 2048.

All this in the context of being a relatively well-paid employee. Although I know I am likely paid less than male colleagues, I am still very well paid by any average salary comparison. Yet house prices have escalated way beyond salary rises, so I am stuck (like others my age and younger) in the private rental sector. Years of paying off student loans stifled my savings capacity. And the cycle of temporary contracts which necessitates a move to a new city every few years has taken its toll. Yet I am aware of my fortunate position. However, we need to work together to push for a fair income for all, irrespective of employment status, not a race to the bottom.

So I will join in the industrial action to save USS at a defined benefit for as much as is possible. I will join for selfish reasons, but I will also join in for those who cannot. Those on precarious contracts who cannot afford to strike but want a future in HE. For those who have yet to join the fantastic world of teaching and research – because it is fantastic. I want to focus on my work, on supporting my inspiring students who make this job the joy that it can be. I want to research disability, gender and inclusive workplaces. I want to effect change for a more progressive and inclusive world. To do this me, and my colleagues, need to be able to focus on being researchers, teachers, scholars, librarians, IT and learning tech experts, managing staff, overseeing research projects – and all the other essential services overseen by UCU members. We should not live in fear of poverty in retirement and wondering if we should have followed a different career path. If the employers destroy our pension then entering the sector becomes even less attractive.

I hope that the industrial action does not need to go ahead because the employers have re-entered negotiations. I really do not want students to suffer through this dispute. But I am hopeful that if staff and students stand together we can push the universities to rejoin negotiations and find a way forward that ensures a fair and attractive academic career. I hope anyone reading will join me by writing to their VC/Principal asking them to return to negotiations and their MPs, AMs, MLAs and MSPs to ask for their support and if possible, support the industrial action if it starts.

In solidarity

 

 

Useful information https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss

Fighting fund https://www.ucu.org.uk/fightingfund

Employment rights during strike and industrial action https://www.gov.uk/industrial-action-strikes/your-employment-rights-during-industrial-action

 

https://www.uss.co.uk/

 

Menstruation, menopause and gynaecological health in academia

One issue which came up in my recent disability research was endometriosis and the effect this has on undertaking field work and other aspects of academic life. I would like to explore these issues more fully so I am conducting a short pilot study on menstruation, menopause, gynaecological health and period poverty in academia.

The survey can be found here

The survey is confidential and anonymous and has received ethical approval from Heriot Watt University. The survey forms the very early parts of the study and I would appreciate any feedback you may have on the language in the survey and its usefulness (k.sang@hw.ac.uk)

I hope to apply for a larger, funded project, and the findings of this will inform that work and also research outputs. Please share with your networks.

 

My teaching statement

Today the results of the TEF were announced, with some unsurprising surprises! It is causing some controversy, specifically about the underlying principles of the process and what many (including me) consider to be a false divide between teaching and research. I thought it might be useful to put online my own teaching statement, which questions the false divide. I’ve copied it below. Hopefully, it’s of some use to those crafting their own statements for jobs, tertiary teacher training certificates, promotions and for their own reflective teaching practices.

Teaching statement

My research-led teaching philosophy is rooted in the concept of the classroom (both physical and virtual) is a space for transformation, where I support students’ own learning. I approach all pedagogical work, whether classroom teaching or research supervision, from a feminist pedagogical perspective. Drawing on the seminal work of scholars such bell hooks, Sara Ahmed, Kimberly Crenshaw and Bourdieu, I engage with learning and teaching through a lens of social justice, with awareness of the intersectional power dynamics inherent in teaching. My teaching is driven by three core goals, transferable learning, personal transformation and accessibility. SCQF and Heriot-Watt graduate attributes underpin my curriculum development and are clearly mapped onto content for students to understand the relevance of their learning.

Transferable learning: My teaching is research-led both in terms of content and pedagogical approach. Through engaging with pedagogical and management research I position my teaching to support students in the development of transferable skills as well as crucial knowledge for engaging with the world of work, and society more broadly. In addition to learning principles of HRM and conflicts between practice and policies, students are also encouraged to engage in critical thinking – to assess the validity and usefulness of sources. The knowledge and skills learned by students helps them not only in a management role, but also across sectors and in their everyday lives. Students regularly send me examples of where they have applied knowledge gained in my teaching, for example, in their own teaching practice, their engagement with popular culture and discussions with friends and family. One former student emailed me last year to say she takes the critical thinking skills learned in my classes ‘everywhere I go’.

Personal transformation: Through the creation of a physical and virtual classroom where students are able to engage with personal experiences of employment and their own research/lives, the classroom becomes a space for personal transformation. I achieve this through an emphasis on an egalitarian space where challenging ideas is welcomed. Students have reflected that, for the first time, they were able to discuss difficult experiences of workplace sexual harassment, racism and sexism.  I help student to develop a language for understanding these experiences and for challenging the discriminatory practices and behaviours. In addition, the classroom is a space for my own transformation. Students have been invaluable for engaging with my own research and shaping its presentation and content. As such teaching and research are entangled practices for me, and are both integral to my pedagogical practices.

Accessibility: this is at the core of all my pedagogical practice. I am passionate that the classroom should be accessible to all, irrespective of disability, gender, ‘race’, sexuality and nationality. I position my teaching to ensure that disabled students are able to contribute fully, with individual adjustments made as required. An accessible classroom minimises the  need to single out students with particular needs, creating a space for full participation. Accessibility also is reflected in the changing student profile with increasing needs to accommodate care work, financial pressures and an international student profile. I ensure teaching is scheduled at times to coincide with campus childcare. Taught content draws on a variety of national contexts and challenges the dominance of white male European thinkers present in much of management education.

 

‘It’s like having a second job’ Disability and academic careers

I have recently finished writing up the report for my EPSRC and HWU funded research exploring the experiences of disabled academics. Having been warned I would struggle to find 15 participants for my exploratory study, I was lucky enough to hear from over 60 academics. Parallel to this has been the enormous interest in the research on social media and more traditional media. I wanted to collate the various bits of publicity and interest that have been generated by the research. I haven’t yet begun a theoretical analysis of the data, but that is on its way. However, these pieces show the early findings. At the end of this piece, I am collating posts by other experts in the field. Just scroll down!

In February 2017 The Herald featured an OpEd from me and a commentary piece

I began by putting together a presentation and video of the early findings, with the latter, suggested at the National Disabled Staff Network Conference in Edinburgh.

Science Careers, the career development branch of Science were also interested and I was interviewed for a recent piece

The Times Higher has a week long series on #disabilityoncampus featuring first-hand accounts and a piece by me.

The Guardian published a piece on disability and inaccessible conferences

The research also informed this piece in the Herald on women academics

Hopefully, there will be more to come!

The full report can be seen here Disability Sang May 2017

Please do get in touch if you’d like to discuss the findings – I’d be delighted to present the work and discuss opportunities to implement the recommendations.

Disability and academic careers

Managing gynaecological health in academia 

Recommended reading

Vivienne Dunstan wrote about her conference experiences in this fantastic blog post

Some hints and tips on organising accessible conferences

This twitter account is currently on hiatus, but is a helpful resource https://twitter.com/PhDisabled
Disability Go provides detailed information on disability access for venues, cities and a range of buildings https://www.disabledgo.com/
National Association of Disabled Staff Networks https://nadsn-uk.org/

Example guidance from Bristol University on accessibility and conferences http://www.bristol.ac.uk/equalityanddiversity/act/protected/disability/conference.pdf

Disability in academia: early thoughts

I am roughly 2/3 of the way through my interviews with disabled academics. So far I have a pretty even split across disciplines and a mixture of ECRs and established academics. Most of my participants are women (so far) and few mid-career academics (again so far). Although I still have a number of interviews to complete, a few people have been asking what my early findings are and so I thought I would consider the emerging themes.

Disability covers such a broad range of ‘impairments’ that there is no one experience of being a disabled academic. However, there are a few shared issues. The first one is fatigue. Being disabled is akin to having a second job. Many interviewees have reported the considerable effort involved in securing even basic reasonable adjustments. The paperwork, appeals, phone calls, meetings are all exhausting and are in themselves a full-time job. This is on top of the fatigue which comes from ‘impairments’ for example, taking longer than non-disabled colleagues to read a paper, undertake marking, write a paper. As a number of people have said to me, we are all overworked, and disabled academics more so.

Fatigue can have an effect on other aspects of academic life, for example, networking. Conferences are pretty tiring things! But when managing the effects of travel, presenting a paper, physically negotiating getting into the venue, a conference dinner or chatting over wine can be more than many people can tolerate. For some people the nature of their ‘impairment’ can make the academic chit chat and socialising difficult if not impossible and some academics worry that the lack of opportunity for collaboration and network building may hold back their careers.

For some academics, they experience a sudden loss of support when they make the move from student to staff member, or taught to research student. Disability services may (or may not) cater for academics, but whether they have the resources and knowledge to be able to provide reasonable adjustments is questionable. This combined with an apparent lack of understanding of disability amongst PhD supervisors, line managers and colleagues can make securing reasonable adjustments difficult. One example is parking spaces, where disabled academics reported unsatisfactory arrangements made by employers, which can prevent an academic being able to access their offices.

The increasing pressures of paperwork, online learning and workload are affecting disabled academics. The rapid turnaround of coursework to satisfy perceived NSS needs impacts those with large classes or difficulty with aspects of the work such as reading. While the VLE can provide accessibility for staff and students, it can also be an exclusionary aspect of work for those who struggle with mouse or screen use.

Many of these problems are the result of lack of thought or unconscious bias, however, some interviewees have reported distressing examples of harassment, offensive and exclusionary language and disability focussed critiques in student assessments. For some academics, this overt discrimination exacerbated existing problems and was associated with mental health crises.

There are some positive stories though! Examples include accessibility maps for campuses, workload reductions, disability working groups feeding into university policy, strong efforts from the UCU and supportive line managers. Much of this seems to depend on particular actors having personal experience of disability themselves or disabled family members. This has implications for continuity of support when a line manager moves on.

These are just some early thoughts – not coherent yet, or fully analysed. There is more to explore around the role of the body in academic work, how these discriminations write themselves on our bodies. Does the nature of the academic work prohibit the accommodation of certain ‘impairments’? Participants generally seemed to think so. I need to unpick these ideas much more. But for now, that’s some preliminary findings!