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(Despite the chronic undervaluing of female leadership)
Your VUWSA President usually occupies this space but considering the fact that the total equity groups he’s a part of is 0, I’m taking it for the Women’s issue. I hope this is reflective of the rest of my life, pushing cis-het-white-dudes out of spaces they occupy.
It’s dark that in a university environment, the mass-scale occupation of cis-het white dudes and their voices in leadership is still such a significant issue. And yet, as a female leader working within Victoria’s structures, I have experienced misogyny.
It’s important here to acknowledge the fact that I am cisgender, Pākehā, able-bodied, and from an upper middle class background, so I am still incredibly privileged and many women experience much greater levels of oppression than I do.
My high school teachers told my parents that I struggled with group work because I was “too bossy”. No shit, I know it sounds like a SOSC111 example of socialisation but things like that have genuinely impacted me. Even being comfortable referring to myself as a leader is the result of a long battle of unlearning the idea that I have to downplay my achievements in order to be a Good Person.
While working on VUWSA, my leadership ability has been questioned because of my gender. I have been criticised for having too much drive, for being outspoken, for not being diplomatic enough. I have been cut off in the middle of a sentence in meetings more times than I can count. I have had tertiary issues mansplained to me by people completely foreign to this area. People don’t believe that I am a Vice-President of an organisation responsible for millions of dollars, or that this is one of three governance positions I currently hold. I have seen the look in various members of university leadership’s eyes when they meet me and automatically assume that I am Rick’s girlfriend, and heard the way they speak to me change when I introduce myself by my job title. I have been in meetings where both of us will be advocating for the same thing, but his voice is heard a lot louder than mine.
University environments are progressive, but they are not immune from encouraging and reproducing patriarchal norms. There is a known deficit and undervaluing of female leadership in academia, there are more barriers for female academics being named professors, and the student experience is still riddled with patriarchal encounters.
Women’s Week rules as an opportunity to assess gendered power dynamics in your actions and your environment. Think about female leaders in your life who you respect. Think about your own positioning. Think about whether this is a time when you should be speaking or when you should be listening. Think about how you can amplify the voices of women around you. Listen to Rihanna.