Read on for a blog by Laura, a first year PhD student, Postgraduate Decolonise Rep and WOKE Champion
I am a mature student.
As well as being older in years I like to think that I am also mature enough to handle situations that could be deemed as potentially damaging. But I have recently found myself avoiding my place of work due to experiencing bullying behavior.
In order to combat this I built a wall, not a wall like Donald Trump envisions, but maybe a bubble to keep certain people and certain feelings out. I’m more selective in who I open up to, I’m less honest about how I am feeling. ‘Fine’, is the word that leaves my lips more often than not.
I become quiet.
Instead of opening up and pushing the boundaries of my bubble wall, I sit in my place of comfort and I listen, and I read.
I reach out to those who are welcome in my bubble, I reach out to those who I’m not quite comfortable letting into my bubble but need to hear from me every now and then.
And I read.
I have always felt comfortable with theory, it’s a running joke with my brother and I that I love the theory and he loves the creative sides of literature. But I always seem to be at my best when I have a theory, somebody like Kristeva or O’Reilly who can provide me with a written reference of what is happening, I seem to perform my worst when I have to try and map a theory onto my argument, or just find a theory that seems to be a square peg in a round hole.
In the case of bullying in the postgraduate environment there is very little theory. If you search for academic articles regarding the topic of bullying in the postgraduate environment there are a lot of articles that detail the bullying between a supervisor and a student, or cyber bullying, or the bullying of staff members. There is very little information on bullying between postgraduate students.
I mentioned this to a fellow member of W.O.K.E and we began to throw some ideas around.
Competitiveness, gossiping, bullying, bitching, and elitism in the postgraduate environment came up, but also liberal feminism vs. intersectional feminism. Some theory… *raises hands and cheers*.
Magdalene Abraha wrote an article on the very subject of liberal and intersectional feminisms in 2015. Her article can be found here.
Abraha explains that:
Liberal feminism has, in many cases, worked to create a one-dimensional, monolithic construction of womanhood. This form of feminism has resulted in founding a politics on a very specific type of experience, asserting the normative experience of all women from the point of view such women . . . Liberal feminism has the ability to espouse a limited conception of gender as an analytical theory. It has centralised a specific group while simultaneously silencing and dismissing the voices of the ‘others’. The centralisation of white, cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class women means their ideological experience is expressed as the normative experience of all women. This, white liberal feminism has the ability to disempower – and marginalise – those whose experiences fall out of the non-normative experiences of their identity (2015).
So how does this relate to bullying in the post-graduate environment?
Well let’s imagine for a moment that there is an elitist ideology ingrained in postgraduate study.
We are supposed to be at the peak of our education, right?
Pushing research forward with our ever-flowing ideas.
We are supposed to be our best, right?
But what if you’re not the stereotypical postgraduate student? Because let’s face it, there is a stereotypical postgraduate student.
What if you’re mature, or you come from an international background?
What if you don’t want to attend social events and (shock horror) are purely in it for the research?
What if you decided to self-fund and not give up after the fierce competition for funding is over?
You still deserve a desk, right?
As Abraha explains in her article, Patricia Arquette’s Oscar Speech failed to encapsulate ‘the experiences of all individual groups of women’ (2015) when she dedicated it to all-women.
Assuming that there is a ‘one size fits all’ in the postgraduate environment does the same.
But crucially, the idea that competitiveness in the postgraduate environment is healthy… is decidedly not healthy.
The way my fellow W.O.K.E buddy and I discussed it was to imagine there was a female CEO, just the one, and society deemed this progressive because she’s a female CEO.
But imagine she stood on the shoulders of every single other female employee to get where she is.
Imagine that these female employees were pitted against each other because competition is healthy, right?
And when some women are upset, or break down, this is fine because it’s deemed as NORMAL FEMININE behavior, because we are all so hysterical and this is why we can’t all be CEOs!
Now let’s map this onto the postgraduate environment.
Imagine if students were pitted off against each other and told that to compete against their colleagues was healthy.
Now imagine you have certain members of the postgraduate environment who fully believe in the ‘one size fits all’ and do not support those who just don’t quite fit. Naturally, this does not create a very positive working environment.
It seems obvious that this will cause tension and lead people to feel a little bit bullied.
If these tensions and a competitive environment are ignored or dismissed as just women being gossips you risk falling into the same narratives that take us to ‘boys will be boys’.
As an individual, your feelings are ignored, or you feel like an impostor in the postgraduate environment.
You’re left just trying to deal with this yourself.
So along comes the bubble. You shut down. You read.
But the more you let people into your bubble, the more you realize that this isn’t personal, it isn’t just you who doesn’t fit in, there’s a whole load of postgraduates who feel this way.
So here’s where intersectional feminism comes in. Abraha argues that:
Feminism should not vitiate the methods through which other segments of the female category inform and articulate their experiences. All women do not have the same story, the same body, the same sexuality, the same experiences. Feminism, in turn, must refrain from articulating one singular voice and view the experiences of females through an intersectional lens if it is to be a means to fight towards equality for all women (2015).
Just as intersectional feminism is not a ‘one size fits all’, neither is the experience of being a postgraduate student.
You can’t be a feminist if you only support one type of woman, and you can’t be a supportive member of the postgraduate environment if you tear down those who do not fit your stereotype.
So what’s the solution?
I guess that is the inspiration behind this article. There are many things I would like to have done differently over the past few weeks, mainly I wish I hadn’t allowed this to affect my work so much and I wish I had been more present on campus.
This article in itself is cathartic for me, this is the line in the sand.
This is me imploring you to wear yourself with pride.
This is me reminding you of the advice I have offered so many times but for some reason have not listened to of late… Other people’s behavior is a reflection of them and not you.
Seek out your intersectional people, seek out those who are welcome in your bubble.
To those of you I let into my bubble, S, S, A and MD… your obnoxiously loud, arrogant but quietly unassuming strength has been my support system.
You are everything that the postgraduate environment should be.
To my supervisors, I’ll be back on campus! And to those who might have inadvertently added to these behaviors and feelings… let’s go for coffee, let’s all learn from this.
Let’s make postgraduate life and academia collegiate, cooperative and intersectional.