The increasing use of Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) surveys by university administrators to assess teacher performance presents special problems for female academics, especially those who teach feminist or gender-focused topics. I teach history course comprising just such aspects. My problems are compounded by the fact that I work in a rural university whose student cohort tends toward a socially conservative outlook. This essay summarizes these multilayered issues and presents an outline of a lecture aimed at introducing students to feminism (the forbidden "f" word) and feminist concepts by stealth, as it were, through the use of photographs taken during my fieldwork research in historical prisons across Australia. I begin with images and discussion of historical prison architecture; then I take students "inside" the prisons via examples of inmate graffiti, in the hope of generating insight into the experiences of inmates. Graffiti created by inmate both male and, crucially, female, afford students glimpses into the concerns and daily sensibilities of both groups. In the process, students come to understand the need for a gendered approach to the topic, and some of the problems associated with SET surveys are resolved.
The Assumed Divide is a visual arts based, practice-led research project which explores expectations of gender within the context of interpersonal relationships, structured through feminist theory. I created a collection of small, figurative sculptures inspired by experiences of animosity and misunderstanding, to locate areas of gendered interpersonal ambivalence. This thesis proposes that feminism might enhance gender relations by deconstructing harmful stereotypes and by encouraging empathy and respect for diversity. Issues such as reproductive choice, intergenerational debate, and uncertainty in aims are discussed as apparent impediments to the unity of feminism, against a patriarchal tradition that grants men categorical universality. I argue that by dismantling the perception of male unification and by elucidating the multitudinous similarities and variances of human experience, feminism makes advances in eliminating sexism. I also examine how binary gender division, with an assumption of distinct difference between male and female, generates conflict and power dynamics advantageous to men, diminishing the quality of heterosexual and social relationships. The observation that overlapping gender traits blur boundaries of male and female, and that rigid categorisations are not indisputably representative of all people, may offer more points of connection to bridge the divide of gender. Each artwork in The Assumed Divide reflects on gendered experience, with sculpted depictions of disintegrated flesh acting as visual manifestations of the psyches and social conditions of the figures. Working realistically on a small scale, and integrating found silver trays as motifs of domesticity and relationships, my intent is to directly stimulate contemplation of the themes in context to viewers’ lives, recognising that the audience is free to find their own meaning in the works. Discussion of these pieces, alongside works by other artists who broach topics of feminism, gender, and relationships, exemplifies the capacity for art to infuse theory with personal insight, inspired and derived from the lives of both artist and viewer.