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Proposal: A Hall of Femmes for Women in Academia
May 22, 2012 - 7:39pm

Not long ago, the Swedish design duo Hjärta Smärta, composed of Samira Bouabana and Angela Tillman Sperandio, initiated a project aimed at recognizing the talent of women designers. They noticed that most of the books in their field showcased the work and the biographies of male creators, and wanted to fill the gap by including all those major female figures in the world of design. They admired their older counterparts’ artistic muse but were looking for also for some inspiration in the biographies of these highly successful but less known female personalities in the world of design.

The result is now known as the Hall of Femme, a nice pun on the Hall of Fame that does not include as many women as the team at Hjärta Smärta thought it should. Besides having a blog (in Swedish) which gathers their design-related posts from around the web, Bouabana and Tillman Sperandio authored also several books based on extensive interviews with the grand dames of design such as Lillian Bassman or Carin Goldberg.

After I had read about the Hall of Femmes I thought immediately that this is exactly what I would love to do: collect the life stories of the big names among female academics. It is true that we here at UVenus are representing the younger, Gen X, women, but, as the saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants. The life narratives of these first ladies of academia are documents about the history of the process of bringing in and recognizing women's merits as researchers and professors at the university level. They are also potential models and terms of comparison for our own lives and struggles today. After a long and successful career, perhaps one looks with different eyes at one’s working life, and at one’s priorities. This could be an inspiration for us younger women in the academia, and perhaps also a comfort, to know that these women we admire have shared our own passions and our own occasional desolation.

I always wondered about such things as:

How did the women professors in any given country active in the 1960s or 70s cope with the patriarchal biases so much more present and visible at that time?

How did they solve the “life puzzle”, combining academia with families?

Did they feel recognized for their work and how (and when) did that recognition come?

As for my imaginary interlocutors, there are many, some dead, some still with us. I would have loved to talk to Marie Curie or Rachel Carson, for example, but that chance is gone… I would love to talk to Nobel Prize winners such as Elinor Ostrom (Economics), Carol W. Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn (Medicine). Or with some of the women authors in my field of study, social sciences, professors like Katherine Verdery, Wend yBracewell, or Helen Wallace. Of course, I would also like to go outside the English-speaking world and get the opinions of women, both young and old, such as Leyla Neyzi, Daniela Koleva, or Barbara Törnquist-Plewa.

We all need role models, and have such people as references in our everyday professional and private lives. Let us recognize their impact and acknowledge their contribution.

Who would you like to include in the Hall of Femmes of Women in the Academia and why? Which questions would you like to ask these prominent female figures in the world of higher education and research?

Anamaria writes from Lund, Sweden. She is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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