Considering the how the patriarchy has circumscribed other women’s experiences in different facets of society has prompted me to more carefully examine my my own experiences through the lens of sexism. As my time studying my undergraduate at the University of Brighton draws to a close, I have also found myself becoming increasingly reflective of my experience within this institution.
I have enjoyed studying at Brighton university a huge amount. I have had the privilege to be taught and interact with intelligent and inspiring tutors and technicians, and feel I have hugely developed both as a person and maker, but there have been some frustrating and boring experiences also.
One such instance was a critique tutorial with a male member of staff in which I believe he made unhelpful and unconstructive comments such as ‘but not everyone will find it funny’ about my project subject.
Naturally while I don’t plan to alienate anyone with my project, there will likely be some people that view the research and outcomes I have created as biased, uninteresting, or indeed ‘unfunny.’
Frankly, this does not upset or alarm me. The nature of trying challenge social issues – particularly sexism that often proves to be somewhat polarising - is that sometimes you step on people’s toes. If creatives were perturbed from making work for the fear of some people disliking it, we would be left with very little – if any – work to consider.
Instead, I felt that the criticism I received was founded in personal distaste to my project matter, rather than as an attempt to improve or broaden it. This view seemed to be shared by the other woman in my critique who approached me after to comment on how ridiculous and counter-productive she thought the conversation was.
Grand Parade campus of the University of Brighton is full of young liberal artists, situated in the middle of what is considered to be a more progressive city. This might lead you to hope that you might find a similarly progressive attitude and practice of gender equality in this university. I believe these standards are perhaps not yet being met as fully as they should be, and so have decided to investigate this through interviews with women who have or currently study at this campus. This is in part inspired by the masses of women in the media that coming forward to testify against their wrongdoers. It would seem that the more that come forward and speak out against the sexism they were subjected to by the men around them, the more women that feel enabled to do so also.
I have decided to use the idea of ‘whistle-blowing’ which is popularly used to refer the act of exposing activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organisation to inspire my design practice. I will therefore be asking each of the women that I interview to blow on a whistle on order to grant a physicality to the testimonial nature of this project.
Interestingly, the significant men around me - some of which I fixed clothes for - who make things and are in some way connected to Brighton University seem to all really enjoy making whistles. I thought it would be apt therefore to ask them to make these whistles instead making them myself, as I enjoy the significance of it being the men around these women who are testifying about their experiences of sexism at Brighton University that are contributing to their voice and indeed enabling them to ‘whistle blow.’
The men I have asked to make these whistle are my tutor at university Patrick, my boyfriend who graduated in 3D design & Craft last year Robbie, and my house mate and friend Sam who also went to Brighton University.
*All names have been redacted from interviews to try to maintain some anonymity per the women involved requests, and different women used to model the whistles.*
Interview Recorded Saturday 30th March 2019
University of Brighton 3D Design and Craft
*all names have been redacted*
The Waiting Game
Hi there! So could I just first off get you to tell me your course and your year of study?
Hi! I’m studying 3D Design at Brighton and I’m in first year.
So, obviously you’ve been at uni for about half a year now?
So I was just wondering if you could reflect on any experiences of sexism you’ve encouraged personally on your course or in the university as a whole?
I think on our course - well maybe not the course particularly - but the industry it is geared towards is so male dominated, at the beginning I didn’t really notice any divide in terms of gender and sexism, but as its gone on and I’ve spent more time in workshops and things like that, I do feel like I’m working harder and harder and harder in terms of proving my worth of being a student on such a manual, typically male course I suppose
So there’s been a few instances where a few people who have been there for a long time who have made quite a few comments about my ability to do things that feels particularly tethered to my gender, and just even humour that isn’t very helpful in terms of increasing my confidence etc.
Ok, I feel I can identify with this. So, would you just be able to perhaps expand this for me a little? Perhaps you can recall tangible experiences of sexism?
Definitely. A few days ago for example, I was getting ready to use the pillar drill and I was wanted to tilt it which I didn’t know to do it, so I asked a member of staff for help -
And this was a male technician?
Yes, a male technician, and he came over and mocked me for not knowing how to do it; put on a silly voice and implied that I couldn’t do anything because I was a woman. And this knocked my confidence quite a lot really and made me feel unable to..
..Go to him for help in the future?
Yeah, definitely! And not only him, it made feel like if this is what the person geared towards helping me to learn thinks, this probably reflects the perspectives of other people around me.
Ok, and do you think this experience is not just something that is singular to you? Or a wider feeling?
Definitely not. So, I’m a student rep for my year, and from day one I have had people come to me and state their frustration and feelings that they are unable access the same amount as men due to them experiencing this type of thing too. This is also through other years, not just mine too, and is also erased in these meetings frequently.
Anything else to expand on?
Yeah, so I had a conversation with Dani, a female technician who was previously a technician and graduated in 2013. When the thing with the pillar drill happened, I went to speak to her, and she was helpful in the sense that she was able to…
Yeah, for sure, but it didn’t feel like she had any hope, or way of dealing with the complaints I had. She said that the member of staff in question was exactly the same when she was here, and that it was something that couldn’t really be changed despite the high volume of complaints.
And so that it was something that would carry on for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, that it would carry on even after I left and that it was more of a ‘waiting game.’
As though its one of those uncomfortable things that we just have to put up with; nothing we can do about it. Despite the fact that it is sort of just one person whose attitude and manner if affecting a lot of people.
Yeah, precisely. I’ve spoken to a lot of second years actually and a lot of them are women, and they shared that they would in fact love to do wood, but they don’t really feel able to as they feel so uncomfortable in that environment.
I think that illustrates how wide reaching this problem actually is.
Yeah, and I really don’t want it to put me off, but it’s frustrating and tiring to navigate this attitude in a place I am paying a lot of money in order to learn these things and not be made to feel incompetent or embarrassed in.
Well, thanks so much for sharing with me!
Interview Recorded Thursday 28th March 2019
University of Brighton Fine Art Sculpture
*all names have been redacted*
Why are the fit ones always thick?
So, hi! What did you study at Brighton University?
I studied Fine Art Sculpture
And when did you graduate?
I graduated summer of last year
Great! So, straight in, can you think of any experiences of sexism you experienced whilst studying on your course?
I think if I think about the whole degree, there are few times where there were particular instances - I had a metal tutor who in general was just quite sexist towards me.
Is this in the way they were discouraging etc?
Well, they would be just unbelievably patronising and also wink at me and just generally make me feel really uncomfortable, but I mean there were a few times that I can recall that are events thats you can really put your finger on the problem and attribute them to ‘sexist events’.
So the sexism was also quite insidious in general?
There is that: when I reflect on the experience as a whole, there was a culture around me making anything on more of a subtle level where I felt discouraged from basically making the things that I had always wanted to. Before I began the degree I did silver-smithing and have always been really interested in metalwork and the reason I wanted to do a sculpture degree specifically and not a fine art degree was because I really wanted to make large scale sculptures out of metal
And so you wanted and needed this to be facilitated for you?
Absolutely, and I didn’t apply to uni’s in London because they didn’t have a metal workshop area. On our open day they actually showed us around the 3D metal area and were like ‘oooh this is where you’ll make’ and I was like ‘woo’ so I had this dream before getting there in first year of making large scale metal stuff. At the beginning of uni we had our inductions in all the different areas and honestly the metal tutor Paul is the most disinterested, unsupportive person I’ve ever come across in an educational institution. He just didn’t want to be there, it was so explicit that he didn’t want to teach, pass things on, he wasn’t interested in our practice and didn’t pass things on. The metal was in this weird tent outside so also, apart from the fact that he made me feel really uncomfortable, if I wanted to learn metal I would have to be by myself, in a tent, outside the main building alone which is not something I would have felt very comfortable with ever.
Yeah that’s really not an ideal situation if you’re feeling uneasy and uncomfortable around someone.
Yeah, his attitude just made me feel really uncomfortable in general with his massively sexist overtones. Thankfully I had another tutor who was a woman and who was amazing, but, I don’t know whether I should say this or not, but me and Helen had conversations about how awful Paul was. He would even behave towards her - who previously was the head of the whole of 3D Design - we had multiple conversations about how awful he was towards the end of the degree. And he would behave towards her a member of staff in a disgusting way.
Why does this not shock me? And do you think this shaped the experience of your degree and your work?
Completely, completely. Most of my course was female, and honestly the only two people really that did people in the metal workshop were the couple of men which is ridiculous.
So that doesn’t really sound like a choice or coincidence...
Definitely not. Any just generally some of the male tutors were just a bit...
...Subtly sexist? Sorry I’m not trying to feed you lines
Not at all. Lots and lots of people I’ve spoken to reflect that. Paul made a comment to one of my friends who is a man saying ‘Why are the fit ones always thick?’ about one of the women on my course who is a lovely, and very intelligent woman. So, before that I always knew it was sexist, but that helped to explicitly confirm his views on women. And I think it’s a culture, the fact that he is allowed to continue when countless other women have experienced this, is ridiculous.
Yes, and the fact that he treats another man - any man presumably - as his ally illustrates the deeply sexist perspective.
Completely. My friend just felt really uncomfortable. A member of staff, an authority figure per- se is kind of putting you on the sport to agree with him is really bizarre and wrong. That’s is just outwardly perpetuating it. It’s just boring. You think you’re going to come to a university and onto a sculpture course and be taken seriously to build things,
In an environment that you’d hope was going to be progressive
And yet you’re still patronised and undermined and it’s so tricky. Especially within making art
work, so much of it is about your confidence in yourself that enables you to take risks, take-chances, and really push yourself, and you come into an institution where you want to be supported and the reason you’re doing university, not making something in a shed somewhere, is because you are supposed to be able to get support that enables you to push yourself to your limits. And its these instances of sexism that really just undermines the whole process.
Thanks so much for chatting to me and sharing your time and experiences.