Tag: Postgraduate advice

Book Summary: Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique.

This short book summary will be the first of three which collectively focus on a mix of contemporary and classic feminist texts. I hope to provide people with a general overview of each book, the author and the social context in which the book was written.

Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique. Penguin, London.

femininemystique1Let me begin by expressing how much I enjoyed reading this book. It was given to me as a gift when I left my voluntary job and I began reading it a couple of weeks before Christmas . I read the majority of it whilst in work, sometimes before I started if I happened to get in early, but mostly on my breaktimes. I had heard so much about the book being great but not a lot about the actual content or main arguments made within the book, however, when I started to read it and place it within the social context of post-war America during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the magnetism of the book drew me in and I began to realise what others had spoke about in reference to The Feminine Mystique (1963). I suppose it was a kind of realisation that yes, most women are unhappy when placed in the mould of housewife and mother alone and yes, in their hearts they strive for more, but do they go out and get this ‘more’ which they long for? Friedan (1963) informs us that no they don’t, not really, and if they do, it most often stops short of the point of satisfaction.

Reading words which were written at a time when they were rarely spoken aloud, for me, gave the book a controversial edge. As an artefact belonging to the early phase of second wave feminism, Friedan’s (1963) work sets out to reveal and share details of ‘the problem that has no name’- the deliberate manipulation of women by advertising agencies, editorial boards, journalists, educators, Freudian psychoanalysts and others alike, to believe in a false belief system. This belief system tells women that they must fit the mould or have their femininity stripped of them, for to be a housewife and mother is the greatest achievement a woman can obtain and if she fails, she fails as a woman.

OB-VK647_1122fa_D_20121120131535Friedan (1963) argues that this false belief system keeps women trapped in a state of perpetual infancy wherein they are never allowed to grow and realise their own worth and true potential. As I read the book, I felt myself agreeing with a lot of the things she wrote about this. When women live in a society in which domescity is a synomyn for femininity, all other possibilities of womanhood are erased. Domesticity therefore acts as a mass distraction, keeping women from becoming full women- women who know their own femininity, enjoy their sexuality and who do not feel threatened by education, employment or stepping out of their mother’s shoes.

Friedan (1963) explains that during the post-war years, men returned from war and it was no longer necessary for women to be employed, seek education or do anything other than stay at home looking after the house and children. Women were told that they had a choice about what to do with their lives. If they really wanted to they could seek education or a career, but at a time when resisting conformity surmounted to failure as a woman, how could they choose freely?

Betty Friedan published the words that thousands of women had uttered to themselves whilst wading in discontent. Friedan (1963) showed the female population that they could do more than what was expected of them. They could break the mould into a thousand pieces if they were determined enough. Framing her words with excerpts from some of the 200 open ended questionnaires she conducted with her former college classmates, Friedan’s (1963) work was pioneering and daring. Many claim that it planted the seed of second wave feminism by highlighting the social and political stagnation experienced by women across America and having sparked the consciousness of women all over the world, many began to embrace feminism and social activism as a means to achieving equality.

It has now been 50 years since The Feminine Mystique (1963) was first published and the impact the book had at its time remains unparalled. In the decades preceding The Feminine Mystique (1963)the problem with no name’ has gradually drifted away from the realm of domesticity to focus on women’s appearance; their beauty or lack there of. The false belief system Friedan wrote about, to me, is very similar to Naomi Wolf’s description of ‘the beauty myth’. The Beauty Myth (1991) acts as an updated version, a contemporary analysis regarding the new mould women are expected to fit. Therefore this problem; this weight holding women down like an anchor tied around our increasingly thin waists, still exists, the mould has merely changed shape.

As one of the most influential leaders of second wave feminism, Betty Friedan helped to found the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Friedan continued to teach and write about women’s inequality, consistently voicing her concerns, until she died of congestive heart failure in 2006 at the age of 85.


I will be posting the next book summary within a week so please check back or follow my blog if you are interested. It will focus on Ariel Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture.

Attending Academic Conferences

A while back in a post entitled “Today was a good day” I provided a list of academic conferences relevant to my research subject. Last week I registered for my first conference which will take place on the 25th January at Cardiff University. The conference is called Young Sexualities and the programme shows that there will be two talks which focus specifically on themes relating to the ongoing sexualisation debate.

Cardiff University ‘Young Sexualities’ Conference

tb-poster3The conference cost is £10 which I think is excellent and my train fare totalled £35. So all in, travel and attendance comes to under £50. I think this is quite reasonable and hope that future conferences will cost a similar amount. However, I’m not sure how realistic that is as I am hoping to attend a conference in Chester university on the 9th March which I have just discovered is £75 to attend! It is a 3 day event and Naomi Wolf is the keynote speaker. If you are interested please see the link below for further details. I plan to register for this event as soon as I have got the money together.

Chester University ‘Talking Bodies’ Conference

So the motivational message attached to this post is… if you are thinking about attending academic conferences, don’t put it off or find excuses not to go, register your place and book the train/coach. You won’t regret it!


Feminist Must-Reads Part 2

In December I set myself the goal of reading three popular feminist texts in one month. As someone who doesn’t read a lot and who reads quite slow at times, I thought the deadline suited me, however, I ended up surprising myself by finishing all three books quite quickly. The books I decided to read were: The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005) by Ariel Levy and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010) by Natasha Walter.
ImageHaving now read these popular feminist texts I plan to produce 3 short book reviews. I will upload the book reviews every Friday for the next 3 weeks so please check back or follow my blog if you are interested!

Today was a good day

Today has been a good day, I finished some things I’ve been working on and I feel like I am finally ready to settle into the routine of part time postgraduate research. I think after graduating it can take a while to get back into the swing of things if you go on to study at postgraduate level. I know it has taken me longer than I imagined and after I originally planned to enrol in September, I am now waiting until January because I feel like I didn’t start off on the right foot.

So after quite a long time completing nothing but doing a lot of random research related things to keep busy, I now feel ready to get stuck in and I plan to set myself a few goals over the weekend.

To end my day of achievement (well maybe not a day of “achievement” but I did complete a job application, send a proposal to my supervisor, produce a student advocate lesson plan and upload this post!) I am going to try and find some conferences I can attend and maybe even send work into. Here are some links to conferences I have looked at so far:

Talking Bodies: Identity, Sexuality and Representation

Body Projects Conference

FWSA Conference

Young Sexualities Postgraduate Conference

The F Word in Contemporary Women’s Writing

Sexuality in Theory & Practice

Add your thoughts here… (optional)


In fairness nobody can tell you how you’re going to feel when you start a PhD. Clearly there are common, shared emotional responses that are pretty predictable: Fear, excitement and nervousness being the ones that immediately spring to mind.

What they don’t tend to talk about is paranoia.

Paranoia that you’re not smart enough to be doing this. Paranoia that somehow ‘they’ are going to spot this. Paranoia that you are going to get found out.

4 days into my PhD and that’s basically where I am. (Actually I’ve been at that stage since the first week of my Undergraduate degree, but that says more about my perilous mental state than anything else!) Fortunately this wasn’t an unpredicted state of affairs and I’d been fortunate enough to have several discussions about this issue with a good friend – who was also scheduled to be one of my academic supervisors before…

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PhD Research Proposal Part 2

Having spent the past few days getting stuck into my research proposal, I can now say that I feel a lot better about the whole thing! I was starting to panic and got myself into the mindset that it wouldn’t be detailed/good enough (something I think we all worry about) but then I realised it doesn’t have to be perfect- it is just a proposal. I am not supposed to know everything and especially not right now at this early stage. So, basically this is just a little update to say that I am getting on okay, it isn’t as hard as I first thought and hopefully I will be finished by the end of today and ready to email it to my supervisor in the morning.

PhD Research Proposal Part 1

Hello everyone, I am currently working on my research proposal for the MPhil/PhD programme I am set to enrol on in January. I have already secured my place having submitted a proposal earlier in the year for an MRes course but having changed my mind about that route I now need to update my proposal and make it much more detailed.

I have searched the internet for an example structure and recommendations of what to include but the information varies so I feel like I am best just winging it. I tend to worry whether I am on the right track and over-think things a lot which I am trying to change so I have now commited to a structure and will be working on it for the next week.

The structure I am going to follow is…

Research Topic                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Working Title                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Abstract                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Intro

Literature Review-
Chapter 1 Summary
Chapter 2 Summary
Chapter 3 Summary
Chapter 4 Summary
Chapter 5 Summary

Research Design, Methodology & Ethics
Expected Results

I will post an update in a few days but in the meantime if you have any suggestions or advice please leave me a comment.

Feminist Must-Reads Part 1

I found this link whilst searching for some good feminist texts. My aim is to read 3 books by January as part of my effort to gain a deeper opinion and better understanding of where we are now as women. I have already decided to read Betty Friedan’s 1963 classic The Feminine Mystique after a friend bought it for me and Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs having started reading it on holiday earlier this year. I still need to decide on one other text so please comment if you have any suggestions.

Update 07/01/13: The third book I chose to read was Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter.

Feminist Must-Reads

Dissertation Guidance for Undergraduate Students

In October 2012 I was asked to give a half hour lecture at university. I prepared a ‘prezi’ (link below) and discussed information and advice relating to methods based research.

Dissertation Guidance for Undergraduate Students

Here is an excerpt from my talk…

“I have come in today to give some information and advice regarding a research based dissertation. The aim of the presentation is to look at things such as organisation and planning, time management, dissertation structure, methodology section, ethics, the research process itself and finally bringing it all together in the end.

With regards to organisation and planning, I would advise you to write a list of absolutely everything you need to do and from there you can build up a detailed plan of the things you need to do. Try to dedicate time to different sections of your dissertation and using a filofax or a personal organiser, write yourself to do lists and set your own goals. A good piece of advice is to purchase a dictaphone and use it to record any relevant lectures or meetings with your supervisor. This can be really useful if your supervisor is the kind to throw a million ideas at you in one go, this way you can re-listen to what they said and follow things up when you are ready.

Moving on to time management, what I would advise is to think carefully about the word count and structure of the dissertation. Big word counts 10,000+ can be really daunting at first but as soon as you begin to break the word count down and divide it into different chapters, the task can seem a lot less stressful. Time management also involves over estimating how long things will take so that you leave yourself with enough time if things go wrong. Reading and notetaking takes up a huge amount of time but if you are prepared for this then you will be fine. I would advise you to read at any opportunity you can, for example, if you read the paper on your break in work, read a journal article instead.

Now I am going to discuss some of the differences between a literature based and methods based dissertation. So first of all, one of the main things is deciding what methods are best suited to your research question, whether it should be quantitative or qualitative and also thinking about whether your choice is realistic. For example, if you hope to have 50 questionnaires answered, is that realistic? Will you be able to recruit 50 participants? Methods based research also involves thinking about sampling and ethics and the results and analysis is a massively important part of any methods based research.

Now lets look at the dissertation structure itself. At a very early stage divide your wordcount into different sections/chapters and then if possible, narrow it down again and again into small sections which immediatly seem much more manageable. My supervisor always advised me to put the majority of your wordcount into the results and analysis section as this is the aim of the dissertation assessment, to see how well you have understood and analysed the results. Do try to do this but don’t worry if your findings are statistical as it can be really difficult to elaborate and bulk up the wordcount in this case.

Starting with the literature review, divide the wordcount into chapters or use subtitles. The things you need to cover are main debates, related theory or theories you are trying to bring together and previous research into the topic. Place this all into a logical order and section by section, work through the literature review.

The same practice of dividing the wordcount can be applied to the methodology section. Subtitles could include: Research design, methods, sampling, ethics and research process. Research design refers to whether the study will be inductive or deductive, positivist or interpretivist etc. It is important to include a few paragraphs discussing these aspects of your research as it allows you to show what position you are taking and how you plan to tackle the empirical part of the dissertation. You should also discuss whether your chosen method is quantitative or qualitative, so whether the research hopes to explore opinions and attitudes  or whether it seeks to measure or test something. When writing about your methods you need to discuss strengths and weaknesses, comparing your chosen method to a different but similar method. For example, if you are using focus group interviews, why? and why not one-to-one interviews? Really justify your choice with a strong argument.

The research process itself should be written in past tense and involves talking about what you did and how it went. Did it all go well or did some things go wrong? Discuss this and write about how you would change things if given another chance.

The final part to consider when thinking about your dissertation structure is the Results and Analysis chapter. Within this chapter you should again, briefly discuss the research process. Then lead into your findings and analysis discussing any main themes. A tip to bear in mind is to always allow yourself time for further reading because you might find that what you have written in your literature review doesn’t entirely gel with what your research has found. You may need to go back and re-read things from a different angle or start a whole new reading list because the research has thrown up something you didn’t expect.

Final tips for success include building a good relationship with your supervisor, starting early and reading whenever possible.”