Meetings: Women Are Boring
A year or so ago if you typed Women are Boring into the Internet the results would probably make you weep. Forums about how boring and stupid women are, a #womenareboring trend on twitter, and endless articles from mainstream media publications with titles such as ‘What Men find boring about Women’. However, thanks to the work of two PhD students, this terrifying tide of search-engine results has finally been changed.
With a mission to ‘normalise the female intellectual’ Catherine Connolly and Grace McDermott decided to launch the site ‘Women are Boring’ in order to counter the stereotypes of female academics and women in research. In the UK and Ireland only 24% of the experts referred to in the mainstream media are women, and when they are referred to it’s almost exclusively in relation to traditionally ‘female’ areas of study. Dubbed ‘fascinating research by interesting women’ the site is dedicated to publishing, sharing, and discussing research across all academic and professional fields. Written for a general audience with research submitted exclusively by female experts it’s swiftly becoming the go-to destination for anyone needing reassurance, or simply an education, that women are anything but boring.
Can you tell us what initially inspired the project? How did you both meet?
We met in class, while studying towards our PhDs. We were surrounded by interesting women whose research was compelling and important. We had come across substantial research which indicated that female experts were being ignored by the mainstream media, and we saw an urgent need to fill the gap by providing a space for female intellectual voices. Also, we believe strongly that research should be available and accessible to the general public.
With the changing political climate, Brexit, increased Student loans (at least in the UK) many fear university degrees are becoming a far less appealing option, particularly for those interested in creative or skills based fields. What advice would you give to a young woman considering academia?
We wholeheartedly believe that there are many routes towards becoming an expert in different fields. While academia is one relevant means of acquiring intellectual and professional success, it is only one of many. That being said, we would encourage young women who are interested in an academic career to firstly understand the real challenges that can come with the career choice, but also to feel empowered in their pursuit of a sometimes difficult, but meaningful achievement. We would also tell them to firstly, seek out supportive peers and mentors and secondly, to feel confident in approaching academics who are currently in their field of interest for advice.
If you could go back, what advice would you give yourselves when starting your studies?
Catherine: I would tell myself to be less afraid of approaching academics in my field. I am a pretty anxious person, and I still have to remind myself of this today!
Grace: I would tell myself to talk less, and listen harder.
What’s the biggest misconception you’ve encountered about academia and research, and more specifically women and research?
The first one is the notion that research is reserved for people in ivory towers and lab coats. While sometimes research careers look like this, the reality is that research can be political, scandalous and nitty gritty—much cooler than what the movies would tell you. It can also be boring as hell! The second is that researchers or academics make tons of money. Some do, but for most, especially those of us early in our careers the job can be very precarious and most of us are still buying the cheap wine.
Can you tell us a little about your own research projects?
Grace: My research focuses on the role of Middle Eastern and Northern African journalists working in the US newsroom. I’m exploring the impact that racial and ethnic identity has on journalism and Islamophobia.
Catherine: I look at the effect of the U.S. targeted killing programme on international law on the use of force in self-defence and the law of armed conflict. I also examine the programme’s use of armed drones, and the rhetoric used to justify the programme and the use of this weapons platform.
Have you ever faced discrimination or challenges from other people because of your work? How have you dealt with these?
We have had very little negative reaction, but a few people have mentioned that they didn’t see the point of featuring women exclusively. We always ask where the outrage is over the male dominated governments, press, and sporting coverage. Then we move on.
You’re an organisation that was founded by women, is supported by women and is made for women. Do you think this has been beneficial? Have you ever encountered any difficulties because of this? How do you think it has influenced the way the project has been run and developed?
The single biggest accomplishment we have at Women Are Boring is that the site is founded by and supported predominately by women. We think the success of this project is proof of the power, importance and support women are willing to offer each other. Contrary to some popular conversations surrounding women’s inability or seeming ‘bitchiness’ when working in groups, Women Are Boring is proof of the opposite.
Who did you look up to when you were younger? Who do you look up to now?
We both see our feminism and ultimately, a huge amount of our reasoning behind aggressively pursuing academic work, as a result of our mothers’ encouragement and examples. Today, we continue to turn to our mothers, but also, feminist leaders like Angela Davis, Mona Eltahawy and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And Lisa Simpson; yes, THE Lisa Simpson, from The Simpsons.
Was it daunting to start the project from scratch? Once you’d had the idea how did you go about putting it into action?
The project probably would have been more daunting if we had understood at the time what a success it was going to be! We started the site because we are both personally passionate about feminism and female-led research, but we had absolutely no idea that so many other people were as well. We have had no funding and the site (along with the related Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts) are run in our free time, so we are thrilled with its popularity.
Do you think being based online has helped to make the project more accessible? Has the Internet and social media helped to shape the project in a particular way?
This project would never have been possible without social media and the web. With the aim of making research accessible to as many people as possible, social media has played a pivotal role. Because of the nature of social media and the conversations it supports, our blog has managed to transcend not only international and gender barriers but also, encourages interdisciplinary learning.
You must have discovered so many brilliant women doing incredible research through the project. Could you give us some examples of women you’ve learned about? What have been your favourite pieces for the project so far?
We’ve discovered SO many brilliant women! It’s really hard to pick just a few examples, as we’ve loved everything featured on the blog so far – there is tons of important and interesting research happening out there. Some that have really opened our eyes and made us think differently about things include the research of Reham Badawy, who is developing an app that can detect Parkinson’s symptoms; Tajma Kapic’s research into why it’s so important that women be included in peace processes; Sadhbh Byrne, who is doing important work on how teens and parents support young people with mental health problems; Ikhlas Abdul Hadi, who researches the evolutionary benefit of fairytales. In the past few weeks alone we’ve had some very varied and excellent work go on site - Sandra Duffy writing on transgender rights, Lauren Robinson on monkey welfare, Ashleigh McFeeters on how the media portrays female terrorists, Eve Kearney on imposter syndrome, and Melanie O’ Brien on sexual exploitation and abuse carried out by peacekeepers during UN peacekeeping missions, amongst others.
Are there any plans to expand the blog? What’s next for ‘Women are Boring’? Can you give us a tease of some articles to come . . .
A real mix of research from women in very different fields! Here’s a tease of three to come in the next few months: an important piece on the effect of austerity policies on women’s health in the UK; a piece from a paleobiologist on what fossil records can tell us about animal diversity since vertebrates first moved onto land; and an article on cancer-cell targeting! And we have tons more lined up, including more opinion and lifestyle pieces.
You’ve already changed the search results on Google when you type in ‘women are boring’. What is your hope for the future of ‘Women are Boring’?
We think Women Are Boring has the potential to be a much larger movement than it currently is. We’re involved in a few events over the next few weeks, and will be having our own events soon. If money were no obstacle, we’d love to start a podcast and potentially do a print publication now and again.
So how should a woman react if she’s told she’s boring?
The middle finger! That’s all the consideration that comment deserves. It says more about the person saying it, than the person it is said to.
Find out more about Women are Boring on their website here.