Yesterday afternoon, in our customary sybaritic manner, Penny and I trotted off to a public lecture at the University of New South Wales: Deborah Cameron on the Myth of Mars and Venus. Since I blogged about the book on Thursday, and the lecture covered the same material, I won’t say much about the lecture here, except that I was fascinated to observe the way DC compressed the substance of the book to fit a one-hour time slot and reshaped it to fit her mainly academic audience. On the one hand (sadly) she left out most of the more colourful examples; on the other, with the help of a handout, she gave us a map of modernist and postmodernist takes on gender and language and of current challenges to the latter. One of the challenges she’s all in favour of, and in some ways amounted to the point of her book: it’s all very well to discuss linguistic diversity, but you have to include the concept of power as well. The other, which didn’t feature in the book, is the challenge from the recent renewal of arguments that differences between women and men are biologically based. ‘It’s no good,’ she said, ‘saying, “Oh not that old thing again. I thought we got rid of that in the 70s.” We have to engage with it. We may even learn something from it.’ In response to a question about the politics behind the resurgence of biological psychology, she was refreshingly blunt: “It’s the new academically respectable face of sexism.”
I was glad I’d read the book beforehand, because it equiped me to understand a lot of what got said during the Q& A at the end about gender as performance rather than something that simply exists in the real world. ‘I am completely free to decide how I speak, but I have no control over how I will be understood.’
There were 32 people there. I counted. About five men. Also sandwiches, red cordial, teabags and biscuits.
This morning, DC’s comments about the necessity of engaging seemed relevant to this spectacle:
It’s Saturday morning, when this locality comes alive because of the Orange Grove Markets across the street. A coffee shop is doing a roaring trade jus a couple of metres from where I was standing to take the photo. People are everywhere, and in a buying mood. But even when the Feminist Bookshop opens at 10.30, two hours or so after serious activity starts, its shop front is hardly inviting. Even if the permanent bars on window aren’t as paranoid as they seem, surely the frosting can only be read as deliberate discouragement of casual shoppers. Of course, there’s no reason a feminist bookshop has to court customers. But wouldn’t an invitation to engagement be a better look?