The Why – Methodology chapter autoethnographic opening first draft Opening Pandora’s Box – The Feminist Academic Awakens

03e03548-1e03-47a8-9826-b22717541fa6The Why
It was 2009 and I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in philosophy and politics at the University of Leeds when I had my first taste of feminism in academia. I had signed up for Dr Maureen Ramsay’s module ‘Feminist Challenges to Political Theory’ having been inspired by her brash, unyielding approach in the previous year’s ‘Freedom, Power and Democracy’ course and wanted more!

Prior to coming to Leeds, I had studied for a year in Oxford and felt drained and deflated as my passion for political activism and progressive politics had been not only challenged, but ridiculed and diminished (Terry 2016). After what had felt like a lifetime of being led to believe that the only political theories of value were those of John Stuart Mill, reading Ramsay talk about “the bankruptcy of liberalism in theory and practice” (Ramsay 1997) and discussing how lived experience was evidence of this bankruptcy was like a breath of fresh political air. She opened the first lecture that year along the lines of ‘Men are the bringers of death, war and destruction and women are the creators of life, art and all that is good in the world.’[1] I finally felt like I had found a place to nurture and grow my academic life and threw myself into the study of political theory. Maureen also ran a feminist reading group just for fun one afternoon a week, and I devoured everything I could get my hands on from academic texts to feminist science fiction. (Faludi 1992), (Piercy 1985), (Perkins Gilman 2000)

By 2010 I knew that I wanted to do my undergraduate thesis in feminist theory, I had been captured by the writings of Andrea Dworkin and was developing an interest in the ‘sex wars’ and feminist political and cultural theory in general. Alongside studying, I was supporting myself by working nights in a call centre and had become aware of the proliferation of ‘gentleman’s clubs’ popping up around the city centre as I walked home dreading another encounter with a group of ‘lads’ entering or leaving these establishments. Gender based street harassment became a weekly occurrence and my embarrassment and fear turned to anger and resentment.

It seems too, that it wasn’t just me who felt as if something sinister was growing in British (and American) society. Campaign groups like Object, No More Page 3, The Everyday Sexism Project and Child’s Eyes had all formed in a small space of time and whispers of a feminist third wave were growing louder. Popular and academic books on the subject of sexualisation and ‘Rauch Culture’ were popping up everywhere (Levy 2006), (Dines 2010), (Levin & Kilbourne 2009) and I eagerly read as many as I could get my hands on.

I began researching my dissertation “Private Acts in The Public Sphere” and felt as though I had opened a Pandora’s Box of feminist understanding in the sense that once I had come to learn about theories of sexualisation, I couldn’t unlearn them, I could see it everywhere and became increasingly interested in the field. During the course of my research I came across several artefacts that led me to continue pursuing this research. An advert by Dolce and Gabbana (Appendix, Fig 1.0); Zoo magazine running a competition to ‘win your girlfriend a boobjob’ (Appendix Fig 2 and 3) and the FHM ‘puppies cam’ feature which encouraged readers to send in pictures they had secretly taken of women’s breasts and cleavages (Appendix, Fig 6.0) all contributed to my feminist awakening, both personally and academically.

These key early moments of realisation and awakening thus acted as my ‘epiphanies’ – “remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life (BOCHNER & ELLIS, 1992; COUSER, 1997; DENZIN, 1989), times of existential crises that forced a person to attend to and analyze lived experience (ZANER, 2004), and events after which life does not seem quite the same.” (Ellis et al. 2011, p.2)

My earlier studies were perhaps naively fuelled by a sense of anger and injustice at the world I perceived around me, but I also began to think more critically about ‘Raunch Culture’, sexualisation and their potential to act not just as degrading forces, but as liberating ones too. I read the likes of  McNair, and Gill[1] and started to think about the need for a deeper understanding of Raunch Culture, and so this PhD is, for me, both a political and academic (and thus ‘performative’ (Denzin 2003)) endeavour.
[1] See (McNair 2002), (McNair 2009)  and Gill (Gill 2010), (Gill 2009b), (Gill 2009a)

[1] I paraphrase and probably exaggerate as her lectures became the stuff of legend amongst the undergraduate cohort!

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