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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: October 2017

Part II - Women's Studies: Introduction


Unlike social movements which have formed religious sects or trades unions or political parties, the Women's Movement has not itself become an institution, and it never had a readily identified membership. Rather, it was, and remains, an amorphous, shifting collection of groups and individuals whose objections to aspects of the subordination of women bring them together at particular junctures to argue around particular issues, to campaign for particular goals related to those objections, or to celebrate women's creativity, energy and humour. English feminist journalist Beatrix Campbell had occasion early in 2012 to reflect on what had happened to Women's Liberation. ‘After the 1970s’, she wrote:

Women's Liberation lived on not as a thing, a place, an address — it had no institutional moorings — but as contingent politics: as ideas, as coalitions, as challenges to the professions, political parties and the academy, in women's services, and in popular culture; it created new political terrain.

As she notes, ‘the academy’ — one of the locations in which Women's Liberation could still be found — was in Women's Studies.

I was employed to teach Women's Studies at the Australian National University from 1978 until the end of 1983, and I was employed to establish and run a Research Centre for Women's Studies at the University of Adelaide from 1983 until 2000. I have written about these activities and reproduce (most of) five of those conference papers, lectures and articles here. They are each a product of the time at which they were written, so there are references specific to those times. I mention the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme in Chapter Eleven, for instance; issues around fees for students and schemes to assist students have changed mightily over the years. In Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, I give examples of some of the difficulties that I encountered among colleagues and administrators, but I decided not to elaborate on these in this Introduction. Accordingly, all of these pieces need a little historical and autobiographical background. First, though, a general introduction.

Often, when I was asked to explain why we would want Women's Studies in a university, I would tell an abbreviated version of a short story written by the North American, early twentieth-century, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Susan Keating Glaspell. It is called ‘A Jury of her Peers’; it was published in 1917.