Why did you choose to become a gender studies researcher?

Celebrating International Women's Day 2017

International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2017 (March 8), we caught up with gender studies researchers and journal editors to talk about why they chose their area of research, why it is so important, and what International Women’s Day means to them.


Beatrice Halsaa, Professor in Gender Studies at the University of Oslo. Editor of NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research.

Why did you choose to become a gender studies researcher?

I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in 1972 during my first maternity leave, and was immediately struck by the vigor and relevance of the claims she made. Inspired by the text, I decided to integrate Beauvoir’s critical perspectives on gender as best I could in my discussion of political science and political participation. It turned out to be the beginning of a lifelong commitment to gender studies.

Why is this such an important research area?

Gender research is vital because sex, love, care, and reproduction are basic dimensions in life, and yet, the meaning of gender is contested. Gender research offers updated empirical knowledge about gendered practices, norms, and discourses in politically significant ways. The field offers systematic analysis of the meaning of sex and gender in past and present societies, and produces notions, methodologies, and theories with which to grasp how gender categories are entangled in other categories and practices – which is still given no or low priority in many academic disciplines.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to re/shape the political agenda. For me, it is a busy day in which we collectively name grievances, make public claims, disseminate facts and values, and stand up for many kinds of women’s rights. It is a day for celebrating feminist achievements, and a chance to display the scope of the women’s movement. The protest march is the culmination of struggles and cooperation, and a celebration of feminist activism.


Liz Cooke, Assistant Editor of Gender & Development.

Why did you choose to become a gender studies researcher?

As assistant editor of Gender & Development, I am not a ‘gender researcher’ as such. However, it gives me much satisfaction to be involved in publishing the work of those who are applying a gender lens to the many aspects of development work being undertaken across the globe today.

The pleasure I derive from my role is possibly a reflection of the exasperation I have felt throughout my life at the invisibility of women and their experiences in so much writing; be it on history, politics, economics, and the list goes on… So often where I read ‘people’ this, in fact, really means ‘men’. Women’s contributions to society, whether in the domestic sphere or in the wider world, have been, for the most part, disregarded.

Why is this such an important research area?

In development, for those who are not gender specialists, there is a tendency to assume that gender just means ‘women’. Maybe this is not surprising, as it still seems necessary to bring to the attention of many that much thinking in the field remains ‘malestream’ – that women exist, and that all aspects of life are in fact gendered. This established gender research and analysis enables us to examine and challenge social norms around what it means to be a woman or man in society, and to pursue justice and equality for all, which should be fundamental facets of development.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

For me, IWD is a day of solidarity. While women are not all the same (intersectional analysis is alive and well in development!), if you acknowledge the existence of patriarchy, then it follows that all women will be subject at some point in their lives to attitudes and practices that demean us, render us invisible, or much worse. IWD is also a day to give thanks for those exceptional women who have fought and continue to fight for women’s rights on our behalf. And finally, IWD is a day to celebrate the gains made so far, in the process renewing energy and inspiration for the struggles ahead.


Maryanne Dever, Professor and Associate Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. Co-Editor of Australian Feminist Studies.

Why did you choose to become a gender studies researcher?

I came to gender studies research via literary studies at a time when there were already major feminist challenges to the literary mainstream, and to the formation of the literary canon. Feminism was absolutely core to the critique and reconstruction of the field of Australian literary studies — and it was working on women’s writing that first took me into the archives (where I still spend my research time when I can). I went on to gain a post in a women’s and gender studies programme and from there my research interests broadened to encompass questions of gender and labor.

Why is this such an important research area?

I stayed in that programme for fourteen years and I can say that maintaining a space for feminist research (and teaching) within the academy was—and remains—an important political project, not least because gender inequality in our world persists and grows despite all efforts and resistance. As a co-editor of Australian Feminist Studies I’m heartened by the breadth, the acuity, and the liveliness of contemporary gender studies research: as a field it has sustained such energy over time.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

I love that IWD this year promises to be huge: the editors of AFS already have pussy hats ready (even if the weather in Australia in March isn’t so conducive to woolen headgear). I think everyone senses that we are on the brink of new and complex solidarities globally.


Sarah Bowskii, Lecturer in Latin American Studies at Queen’s University Belfast. Journal of Gender Studies Editorial Board Member.

Why did you choose to become a gender studies researcher?

I became a gender studies researcher because at school and university it seemed to me that whenever we read novels by women, we did so thinking about gender. When we studied novels by men, on the other hand, we studied how they represented wars or how their novels addressed the ‘big’ social issues of the day. I wanted to know what would happen if we reversed this trend by studying novels by women asking how they were addressing the ‘big’ issues of the day and, conversely, studying novels by male authors from the point of view of gender.

Why is this such an important research area?

I think that this is an important research area because it highlights that even when it comes to studying literature, we make assumptions that are based on our ideas about gender. When it comes to the gender of the author we do judge a book by (the name on) its cover. We make assumptions about what a book is about and how we should study it based on the gender of the author. By showing that there are many different ways in which to analyze a text, I try to challenge the idea that ‘only’ women authors are interested in gender, and the assumption that women authors are ‘only’ interested in gender. If we can highlight and challenge these issues in relation to studying literature then we can do so in other areas as well.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

As well as being a gender studies researcher my work is also based in Hispanic and Latin American Studies, so for me International Women’s Day is an opportunity to remember and recognize the diversity of women’s experiences in different countries, and to think about how we can support and learn from one another.