Posts By / Heather Savigny

International Women’s Day and Burlesque

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” Gloria Steinem

8th March was International Women’s Day. First observed in 1911, it is a national holiday in many non-western countries (full history here) and has its roots in the struggle for women’s rights.

International Women’s Day is a day of reflection and celebration.  Women have made considerable advances in contemporary society.  Women now vote, have been and can be Prime Minister. Women now work and have historically unparalleled legislative rights. Indeed so successful have these gains been that it is not uncommon to hear it said that women now ‘can have it all’.  Recently released UCAS  data suggests that applications from UK girls outnumber boys at undergraduate level (and across most areas of study).  Mary Curnock Cook has warned that young men risk becoming a ‘disadvantaged group’.   Yet, to look at these statistics in isolation from the wider context is fundamentally misunderstand the nature of power in our society. Numbers of applications may well be declining for young men, but that doesn’t seem to stop men being over represented in the major institutions that dominate our society. Indeed, 88% of MPs in British Parliament are male. 80% of board members of  FTSE 100 companies are men.  86% of UK Vice Chancellors are male. Advances in education are not translated into advances in the corridors of power.

At the same time, in the last week we have seen reports that tell us over half of British women have been physically or sexually assaulted in the workplace .  In the UK, there has been an increase in numbers of rapes of adults and children.  This takes place in a wider educational and political context where the issue of consent is not understood by both politicians and young people alike. There is not yet a legal requirement to discuss consent in  sex education in schools.  This lack of awareness is situated in a wider media and cultural context: Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, also known as the  ‘rape song’ includes the lines ‘you know you want it, cos you’re a good girl’.  This song has been banned by some politically active student unions around the country, but it is indicative of a wider set of cultural problems endemic in what is increasingly labelled  ‘rape culture’.  And from popular culture to state sponsored violence – rape is still a weapon of warfare which remains largely unprosecuted (Sheppard, 2009).

This handful of examples, suggest that yes,  we do need a day to highlight the importance of women and their interests whatever their ethnicity, class or geographical location.  We also still need to ask questions about the structural disadvantages that women still face.  Women are over represented in (British) educational contexts.  Yet, in 2014 we are still needing to ask why are women and their diverse interests still under represented across the social, political and economic sectors across society? Stopping to reflect on the nature of power, invites us to reflect on ways in which we might challenge it. A central aim of the feminist agenda has been to do just this in a multiplicity of ways. Dissent within and without being part of a healthy dialogue. Feminists are often presented as humourless (perhaps by those who do not wish to have their interests challenged?).  In direct response to that charge, and to the question recently raised at a WAN committee meeting – is it possible to be a feminist and enjoy burlesque? Nadia Kamil provides us with a resounding  humorous and serious ‘yes’.


Women’s Academic Network Launched at BU

Thursday 26th September saw the launch at BU of the Women’s Academic Network (WAN). It seems rather timely that as I am sitting writing this, there is a discussion on the Today programme about the re-rise of feminism and feminist activism.    WAN’s aims and raison d’être have been spelled out previously on this blog, and on Thursday after some wine/light refreshments we Retreated (sorry) to the inauspicious surroundings of the newly revamped Mary Shelley lecture theatre for our inaugural address.

Head of ApSci and HSC, Gail Thomas eloquently introduced the aims of the network, the committee and gave details of our Fusion funded speaker programme (first event November 22nd Laura Bates from everyday sexism, lunchtime seminar, room tbc) and read out a message of support from a sister network at UEA (see below). The Vice Chancellor, John Vinney then welcomed the packed room to the Women’s Academic Network, and to the event. He also highlighted how WAN is just one of a number of initiatives here at BU, including the excellent work being led by Tiantian Zhang around Athena Swan. Gail then introduced our speaker, Dr Fiona Beddoes-Jones from the Cognitive Fitness Consultancy. There was a collective intake of breath when the keynote mentioned things that can cause tension in organisations…such as car parks, but that is real life I guess. Her talk was derived in part from work in neuroscience and in a good natured manner she humorously took us through the differing characteristics of authentic leadership. She was careful to not revert to the biological determinism which can characterise this work, and she generated some very thought provoking questions after. She asked the audience to write down their 3’top tips’ for women academics. These have been collected, will be collated and posted here at a later date.

Sue Sutherland (OBE, Chair of the Board) then gave a vote of thanks where she talked about her own experiences and background.  She talked of the relative absence of women at senior level, and stressed there was recognition and a will to tackle this. She also emphasised the importance of having and of being role models, to each other and to our students, closing the address on an important note.

Networking opportunities followed and which provided a great opportunity to meet women across the University who we may not normally have had recourse to come across.

Thanks are finally due to the massive audience, it was great to see the place full. Thanks too for those messages of support and interest from those who could not be there.

So what happens next?

Well there are Fusion funded speaker events planned which will be advertised in the usual way. If you wish to be added to the mailing list please contact Jo Downey and we will keep you posted as we move forward.

This is just the start and we hope you are able to stay in touch and join in.


Letter of support from Resnet (women’s research network at UEA)




The Network for Women In Research

and Supporting Research

25th September 2013



Dear Heather  

On behalf of your friends on the ResNet Committee I am writing to send you and your colleagues all our best wishes for the launch of the Bournemouth University Women’s Academic Network – WAN.

As you know, ResNet has been running continuously here since 2000. There have been many improvements for women in research and academia since then, but there is still some distance to go. Consequently there is a very strong need for networks with a fairness and gender equality focus. Importantly, women remain under-represented in the more senior, decision making, senior academic posts. The issues retarding women’s advancement are complex and more open discussion is needed to improve awareness and lobby for change. WAN will give Bournemouth University a forum for these issues and the all-important networking space that academic women need and enjoy.

We wish WAN and yourselves every success and look forward to exchanging ideas between our two networks in the future.

Best wishes

Gill Malin

Chair of ResNet



A Women’s Academic Network at BU

This September marks the launch of a Women’s Academic Network here at BU. The launch event will be hosted by Professor John Vinney  and Sue Sutherland, OBE and is open to all BU academic staff.

 Why do we need a women’s academic network?

 Bespoke networks for women are common across business and within the media, both in the UK and across Europe and the USA.  Within the profession, there are networks for women in science and philosophy (for example). These bespoke networks exist in recognition that professional women regularly face gender related challenges in the workplace. Thus women’s networks also function to support women  and  to raise their profile within organisations and beyond, as well as to lobby on gender inequality issues. Despite decades of lobbying and the notable achievements gained by women in the workplace, women in academia have not managed to make significant gains across the sector.  This extraordinary situation has recently been highlighted in Nature and most recently, in the Times Higher Education through a series of features highlighting the seriousness of multiple career obstacles impacting on female academic staff in particular.

  How did we create WAN?

The network we are developing here is informed by work I undertook at UEA, as co-Chair of a Research Network for Women. I began by approaching a number of women across the University, and our initial meeting began with a discussion as to how we would envisage such a network and what its purpose would be We then ran a University wide survey, again to establish demand for such a group. We relied on the survey being passed forward and while we recognise that not everyone may have been able to participate, there was sufficient response from colleagues to identify a demand and need for such a forum to be established (see here for results). 

 What are our aims?

The aims of WAN are to support women and women’s interests, in all their diversity, across BU. 
As a distinct and separate entity we will also work alongside and support, Athena Swan, DDE and the Equalities Office.

 How will we do this?

Through a programme of events we will be seeking to:
Raise the profile of women across the University
Create a regular networking forum
Identify important career issues for women academics with a view to further consultation


What does WAN look like?

Our current committee (based on attendance at the last committee meeting) is as follows:

Co-Convenors (elected for one year in the first instance)

Amber Burton
Sara Crabtree
Heather Savigny

Committee Members

Carrie Hodges
Vanora Hundley
Julie Robson
Elizabeth Rosser
Chris Shiel
Gail Thomas
Shelley Thompson
Kate Welham
Amanda Wilding
Huiping Xian
Tiantian Zhang


How can you get involved?

Come to the launch event and learn more about WAN and how you can contribute to the network.


When is the launch?

September 26th
Where: venue tbc
What time: 5-7pm. Children and other dependents are welcome
To help us with catering and room bookings, please register by contacting Jo Downey (

Further details including room and speaker information will be provided nearer the time

 If you would like to offer an event, please contact Sara Crabtree, Amber Burton or Heather Savigny (;; )


How can we help you meet your research goals? (or things I wish I had known as an early career researcher) (Demystifying the research process part 2)

Research is difficult. And like the loneliness of the long distance runner it can be isolating too.  The aim of this post is demystify some of those early career uncertainties about what is expected, and to think about how we can work together in research as process (rather than content). It is underpinned by the questions: what should an early career researcher be aiming for? And how can we help those goals be identified, made manageable and achievable?  It is based on a session I recently ran with some of my early career research colleagues.

We set aside a morning to begin this conversation. We started with a discussion about some of the constraints and barriers to research, both across the sector and within BU.  Across the sector, government the Russell Group’s response to this (grr) all militate to pose greater challenges than perhaps 10 or 20 years ago.  Within BU there are also a set of strategic goals across the University, schools and groupings. And of course, colleagues also have their own personal research goals.

Having discussed this wider context, we then began to think and talk about what we would want to achieve with our own research and how these goals might align with the context we are in. We did this through a conversations around a set of questions about research as process:
e.g. what is research?
what  does a good research profile look like?
Where do you want your research to be at the end of the summer? After one year? Three years? (full set of discussion questions available from me

Through these conversations we then generated a series of outcomes:

  • Colleagues developed realistic research plans for over the summer (which included holiday away from research and work generally)
  • Shared practice on how to develop a research timeline for the forthcoming year and for three years
  • The request for both a bespoke grants academy session (in current discussion with the research office who offer some great support here) and a writing workshop (to be organised by me and held in the Autumn)
  • An agreement to run a series of research ‘brown bag’ sessions where we discuss the research we did over the summer (and we have just heard that we have now been able to get a one hour research session in to our timetable.  This is so that discussions about research content and as process can continue throughout the year)
  • A plan to hold a ‘meet the editors, publishers and grant reviewers’ session (again as part of the demystification process)
  • A plan to establish an electronic discussion forum on linkedin so that research plans, ideas and good practice can be shared

Why I think this will work:

  • I think sometimes in the midst of everything (exam boards and marking and reassessment and emails etc etc etc) we can forget that research is fun. Having a bespoke session where we think specifically about research and hear about each other’s projects is just good fun and can be quite energising
  • Colleagues have some amazing ideas and research projects
  • To have a space to talk about why research is difficult, and to understand that many researchers feel like that, can help with those feelings of isolation.  Working collaboratively is not only about working together on content.  The isolation and loneliness that can accompany research can also be tackled if we think of research as process; it doesn’t matter if someone works in my area or not, we can still engage in the exchange and challenging of ideas
  • We have set small, achievable goals, as well as having done some long term planning.

I am more than happy to share what we did. If you would like to know more about the above or the writing workshops, or think of doing something similar yourself, please do get in touch



Caught Somewhere in Time: Research takes Ages! (Demystifying the research process part 1)

We got a book contract today. And what a herculean effort that feels; talk about delayed gratification.  My friend/co-editor and I first discussed the idea 2 years ago, when we saw a publisher’s call for proposals.  Yeah that sounds cool, we thought. So we worked out our broad ideas and the people that we wanted to contribute.  Our focus was mainly on early career scholars who are producing some real ‘cutting edge’ research and we invited them to submit work for review. My co-editor and I then worked on the narrative that would frame the book, as well as finding out that all important information that publishers want to know: who will buy it.  Probably around 6 or so months after our original conversation and discussion with series editors we were ready to submit our proposal.

And then we waited.

About six months later we got back in touch with the series editors, ‘any news from the publishers’….’we’ll get back to you’

And so we waited.

Then we got a reply to the effect that the proposal had been lost and then under a pile somewhere and then the person involved had been on holiday etc but they would get back to us with comments.

And so we waited.

This was now about 18 months after our original idea. And so we decided to approach another publisher. We did this in December last year.

As the contributors were mainly early career scholars,the publishers asked us to invite someone ‘famous’ to get involved. You can imagine our surprise, and delight, when not only did we get one of, if not THE  leading scholar in the discipline to write our foreword. And then it  just got a bit better. We invited one of the leading activists in the field to write an afterword. And she said yes 🙂

The publisher then  asked to provide a sample chapter. I wrote the first draft of this in January on the writing workshop that we held. By the end of January we had our ‘famous’ people in place, our sample chapter and what we thought was a good proposal in place.  Our editor at the publishers was set to go off on holiday in March, and so she assured us she would get back touch by the end of February.

And then we waited.

The reviewers were slow, one disappeared and a new one had to be found. We got reviewers comments back in May. We revised our introductory sample chapter in light of these comments and resubmitted to the publisher within about two weeks.

We then had a (relatively short wait)

The chapter and proposal went back out to review, and we were then asked, would we do the minor things the reviewers asked. Of course, we said (a pragmatic) YES!

And so, today, 2 years after we first chatted through our ideas, and then planned our book, we have a contract.  And of course it doesn’t end there. We now have to collect the chapters, get them reviewed. If we can get this done by next Easter, we are setting ourselves ambitious goals. From manuscript submission to holding the book in your hands includes copyediting, indexing, proofs to read, and of course the print run.  And of course, before all of that it has to go back out for review. This can take anything from 9-18 months.

Our book is therefore likely to have a 2015 publication date (if we are lucky) which given we acted upon our original idea in 2011, does feel rather a long time!


Gender in 21st Century Popular Culture:the Politics of being a woman in the 21st century, editors Heather Savigny & Helen Warner (Basingstoke:Palgrave) may well be coming eventually to a bookstore near you.

with thanks to my early career colleagues in CMC, the Media School and Iain MacRury

Time for research? Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love writing

If I could just work out that perfect sentence I would start writing. Well, if I had the time to think of the perfect sentence that is, because I have emails to answer, and teaching (and emails) and marking (and emails) and meetings and students to see (and emails). But that’s ok, I’ve got a research day later this week, I’ll start writing then.

 With apologies to Jane Austen, it does seem to be a truth universally acknowledged, that there are (at least) 101 reasons why we don’t write. The biggest one perhaps for me, is that fundamentally I find writing hard.  That’s not to say I don’t do it. But there is definitely more (and better) that I would like to write if only I had the time. This blogpost itself is something that I may have put off until an absolute deadline, or until I’d worked out perfectly what I wanted to say (I don’t want to show myself up in front of my lovely new colleagues) but I am happily writing the first draft of this, without waiting for that perfect starting point, sat in the library with a couple of friends, who are also writing. So what’s happened?

I have been reading and thinking a lot about writing for quite a while. Indeed for a long time I have really enjoyed thinking about writing; I had a romantic Sartrean ideal of sitting round in a cafe, thinking wise things, smoking, drinking coffee, and producing works of utter brilliance. (That I wasn’t writing like de Beauvoir and friends was also another source of frustration!!).  Some of the reading and thinking I did was about style; how could I improve the quality of my writing? I came across this book by Helen Sword which has already been blogged about here. But I was also thinking about my motivation for writing and how I could improve it. I love George Orwell’s Why I Write but I felt he didn’t really give me any practical ‘top tips’

In my previous academic job, my ‘research day’ was often a Thursday.  Some Thursdays I was super productive. Fine and good. But some Thursdays I’d start the day listening to the Today programme, with a cup of coffee and mulling over what I was going to do that day. So I’d do my emails. And while doing that the radio would segue into In Our Time, and then of course Woman’s Hour (it should be said these were both programmes I was oblivious too until I had research days). I’d be doing emails, admin, dealing with students etc, so was technically working. I just wasn’t doing any research writing. I would get started maybe late morning, just before lunch. Or maybe I’d have a walk and then start after lunch. Or maybe I’d do a bit more reading first. Now don’t get me wrong, I do have publications, and I do get my writing done, but I’ve never really found it enjoyable.  Writing was something I could very easily procrastinate over (a friend sent this amusing video on procrastination) which of course would then mean I’d also then beat myself up at the end of the day.  This wasn’t every time I sat down to write, but it certainly did happen more often than I felt comfortable with. And then, during one of my research related procrastination detours, I was on a website when I came across this book called How To Write a Lot. Written by an academic, this book helped me rethink my working practices in respect of writing (and was probably the best £6 I have spent in a long time!).

And then a second stroke of luck.  Last week, supported by the Politics Research Group in the Media School, we ran a writing retreat. The first day was run by a facilitator. Now I have been on training sessions where I am feeling I already have too much to do, and that working time (and especially that elusive writing time) is being lost while I am in the session. Yet the beauty of the retreat was that we were encouraged to take along a piece of writing that we were working on.  What was important too was that it didn’t matter that in the session we had different research interests or that we were writing on different topics.  A colleague produced two book proposals and a grant proposal. In one day! Another colleague wrote 4200 words. And I managed just over 3000 words. And this wasn’t 7 or 8 hours solid writing. This was in less than 3 hours in total.  Now these weren’t perfect words, well mine certainly weren’t. And I also didn’t have my perfect opening sentence. But I did have something to work with. And now less than one week later, I have an 8000 or so word chapter that I have sent across to my co-editor. In short we all produced MORE on a training session than we would have done if we had been working in our offices for the day.

 I have written everyday since that retreat and am now starting an article and a research proposal.  I don’t feel daunted by the prospect; in fact I am really enjoying it. It’s just lovely typing away with my writing friends and I am also happy writing on my own. It’s a great combination. I have discovered that I actually like writing and a whole world has opened up to me.  I am not religious (apart from our census form on which all of my family are heavy metal), but it does feel strangely like some kind of Damascene conversion.

Heather Savigny

Senior lecturer in politics

Media School