So conference. My first impression was not favourable. Ok backtrack. My first impression was favourable because the university is beautiful. Like straight out of a picture book, the kind of campus you dream of when you think of universities. Why is it that the word university conjures up exactly these kind of images in our mind, like our idea of a village is also a certain kind of green with black and white picturesque looking cows in it. Entrance to the University
My second impression was so-so. People were medium-level friendly. It is muchos liberating to not care that much. To be okay with just standing or preferably sitting down on your own. It would help to have a phone to check, but I didn’t because guest wifi has to be applied for in advance at first-world university. The first session was okay, I think. I felt like some of the papers were borderline master’s level. Maybe I was being unfair. The fact is my paper for this conference isn’t stellar either, but I know that. Then again, I won’t let on that I know that when I’m presenting so maybe that’s what people are doing too. I think I offended one girl by not couching my critique quite properly. It was very badly articulated. Ouff.
It appears that the dominant aesthetic in the Humanities these days is piercings, preferably of tongues. It is funny how many people here have tongue and/or nose piercings of the bull ring kind. Also bright led lipstick. I too favour this shade. However, before the conference, I wondered whether it would be too much, and then finally put it on because I was too lazy to reach for the magenta, my other choice these days. Turns out everyone else did the same unabashedly though (I’m assuming). How does this happen? Does a memo go out? “Young sprites of the humanities, please note if you wish to retain your street cred you must pierce your tongue and preferably wear bright red lipstick.”
Also, the majority of the women, and we are a majority of women at this conference, are pretty. Unusually pretty, and not afraid to show it. Also, all the girls wear dresses, some of the kind that one would wear to a party. I wore a dress too, but from my office days, with a jacket. I might have stood out a little, looking older than the other ‘girls’ but I didn’t care too much. It amused me. Like when I was heterosexual and on the cusp of marriage in my Master’s and everyone else was committing to being gay. I hope I queered the queerness a little bit.
I had brought a dress for the dinner, but then thought fuck it, I’m too knackered to change, and my dress was in the same vein as my conference dress only the day dress was brown and the night dress was grey. However, some of the others did change, into skimpier outfits. Little edges of lace bras on view, for example.
In this, there is a divide between the older women there and us, the PhD students. I wonder what they thought of us. Well, I was somewhat in between so what they thoguht of “them”. Were they rolling their eyes at the third wave? (I liked attending the papers of the older women, I got more out of it.) At one point there was a conversation I overheard between a keynote speaker and two of the younger women, about what to wear. Clearly this was an issue people had given some thought to. “Just wear a dress. You’re a girl, dammit,” someone said someone had told her. Interestingly, the older, seemingly very pragmatic older woman, had changed into a skirt for a keynote, admittedly a fairly staid one. She was cool that woman; she’s a fairly big deal in this admittedly small circle but I had a nice conversation with her. Some of us are mothers and that breaks the ice. Also the fact that I’m flown here from Hong Kong and the jet lag. I also liked that as time wore on, we were frank about how nervous we were.
I didn’t think I was that nervous, but I was because I woke up at 3 am the night before the presentation (when I had slept at 12 am) and couldn’t sleep after for thinking about it. Jet lag may have played it’s part, but the other thing that threw me was that people were pretty much just reading their papers. I had prepared a full PPT with … wait for it… pictures. What? I like pictures. However, this might not be viewed as very … academic. However, in the end, after a short poll (of V and MinCat) I decided to just do my thing. I felt that if I scrapped the PPT at the last minute, it might throw me off because I had rehearsed with it. Sure it would be easier and less time-consuming to just read like an automaton, but that is frankly…boring. So yeah, I did the PPT and it was fine. I think people enjoyed having some to look at, though they would never admit it. I like that PPTs are not mandatory, but I actually prefer when they’re there. Later, the cool older lady, had a PPT with pictures, though smaller, less attractive ones. Why do we play down attractiveness? Clearly, the younger set don’t do this with their bodies, only their presentations.
The dinner broke the ice. Some of us ended up sitting at one end. A very cool Scottish girl with bright red hair, a Japanese girl with a thick North (?) British accent, a Spanish girl and the American diva, who for her presentation had hopped onto the table and crossed her legs. The girl at whose presentation I asked awkward question nearly sat next to us but then chose to sit at another table. Unfortunately, Indian lady came sat next to me. Did I mention her? I was very happy to know that another Indian was going to be the conference – it’s weird, I find comfort in seeing Asian or brown or black faces at this very white destination – and also her topic was relevant to me only I couldn’t attend her talk as it was at the same time as mine. She turned up in the afternoon, and from her body language I had my doubts about her. Then she asked a question at the presentation and it was worse than the poorly worded one I had asked. Then I actually met her and my suspicions were confirmed. She was one of those with a big ol’ chip on her shoulder. Everything she said to me was heavily patronising or critical or both. She criticized the food and that they were giving us enough free stuff and the presentation and oh god. Are Indian supposed to get together and just bitch about everything at these events in the Western world? Ugh.
And at the conference dinner, she wanted to do more of the same. I mostly tried to angle away from her and talk to the person on my other side. Also, I just hmmed and nodded to things she was saying which probably made her think I was an idiot, when actually I already knew the obvious points she was making about Indian womanhood, not all of which I agreed with but which there was no point articulating to her because she is already sure she knows because she’s been around the block (though in a different field, which apparently people are turning to now because feminists have failed to answer these questions. Ahem.)
One of the things that came up was how good it was to just matter-of-factly air feminist views and not get the inevitably pushback or be treated as some kind of niche specimen. I found that Irigaray, the theorist I love, is not unfashionable at all like I had been given to understand. There were at least three fangirls in our group. We took a picture and added each other in Facebook. See, even academics do normal things.