I still vividly remember the day I came to Essex to be interviewed by Mary MacIntosh for a possible ESRC PhD studentship in 1980. Walking along the corridor I relived my first degree: I had read and cited so many of the names on the doors, I was intimidated and excited in equal measure. Much to Mary’s initial dismay I changed my topic after a few weeks from women’s financial independence (her passion) to violence against women (my passion). Many have been surprised that an avowed socialist feminist supervised a radical feminist, but Mary was in so many ways the perfect supervisor – my analysis and writing had to be rigorous to pass muster. I learnt to develop and build an argument with her, Ken Plummer and Joan Busfield (my other supervisors) in mind – training that I have held onto ever since, to not think only in relation of those who have a similar perspective/politics. I have drawn on it many times to imagine and find arguments/evidence which might open up a different conversation with policy makers and practitioners.
I also learnt to teach at Essex, drawing inspiration from Ken Plummer whose love of, and devotion to, teaching was remarkable. His was the door that always had lines of students outside, seeking intellectual and human guidance. We PhD students got to teach rather a lot, especially on first year courses, since many of the academic staff clearly regarded it as beneath them to engage with anyone who had not already committed to the sociology department. Some of our most brilliant scholars were also impatient with second and third year students who struggled with new, complex and challenging ideas. My style – to begin seminars checking whether they had understood the lecture, where they had got lost and asking if they could apply the concepts to contemporary lives – offered something different, that many, especially mature students, welcomed.
Some other random and fond memories:
– our wonderfully smart admin staff, all older women, who found ways to manage the ornery and often arrogant Oxbridge mentality that was such an obvious undercurrent among many, but never all, of the academic staff;
– the women’s group we established that connected students, support staff and academics to explore how we might change the university culture;
– the feminist PhD/MA support and reading group that got many of us through those moments of despair when you cannot bear your data/topic/chapter that does not work anymore;
– telling the important male academic who had never acknowledged me in four years to ‘f-off’ when he deigned to do so the day I was awarded my PhD.
Doing my PhD at Essex changed my life, enabling me to become one of the women who have established violence against women as a field of study, how could I not be grateful.
Professor Liz Kelly is the Co-Director of CWASU and Roddick Chair of Violence Against Women at London Metropolitan University where she also helps run the MA on Woman and Child Abuse. She has been active in the field of violence against women and children for over three decades, has led CWASU since 1993, and is recognised as a leader in the field. She is the author of Surviving Sexual Violence (1988), which established the concept of a ‘continuum of violence’ and has written over 100 book chapters and journal articles. Liz is chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, an expert on VAW to the European Women’s Lobby and EU Gender Institute, and a Fellow of the Royal Society.