Making me

As a privileged white academic I have benefited hugely from the time and space afforded by the COVID-19 lockdown. Whilst the demands of my work have continued – and in some ways increased in unexpected ways due to the pandemic – I have also been released from the relentless travel which had come to dominate my life over recent years. Like the planet, I’ve been able to take a breath, regroup and reflect on what is is important to me. And on my place and role in the world.

This is not just a consequence of the lockdown. It also reflects a particular moment in time – and in my life. In a few weeks time I will turn 50, half a century of life lived. This artistic collaboration has opened up opportunity to engage with parts of my identity as a woman, a mother and most recently a grandmother that have inevitably shaped my life and career but which have often had to be buried deep in the interests of others – my children, my partners, my work.

Each of us has multiple, intersecting and often overlapping identities. We wear these identities like masks, revealing only parts of ourselves to different people in different contexts. As a female professor I know only too well how gendered academia is. It’s no coincidence that the ‘productivity’ of female academics, defined and measured in terms of high-ranking journal articles and prestigious grants awarded has decreased relative to men as a consequence of COVID-19. Its not just the women are juggling responsibilities for childcare with their academic work but that the response to the pandemic has, in my experience, been deeply gendered with women often more focused on maintaining and sustaining relationships than on ‘outputs’. As I’ve written elsewhere, far from being a ‘leveller’, COVID-19 is an amplifier of existing inequalities and that includes the inequalities in our own, albeit privileged, lives.

I became a professor at 39. It was a huge personal achievement and a liberating one. I had ‘proved’ my worth. But as a professor I am nonetheless expected to perform my role and identity in certain ways. And as a female professor – and director of a huge international research project – that takes very gendered forms. More than once other (male) academics have suggested that I should use more emoticons in my work emails so that other (male) academics find it easier to accept my leadership. I’ve been accused simultaneously of being ‘too emotional’ and taking things ‘too personally’ but also of being ‘bossy’ and ‘authoritarian’, turns of phrase which I know would never be directed at a male professor. And I understand the importance of ‘big words’, of publishing in formats that give me credibility as an academic even though building relationships that can contribute to transformative social and political change interests me far more than the impact factor of the journals in which I publish.

But my identity as a professor is only one part of who I am.

I am also a mother, grandmother, daughter. A wife. A lover. A friend.

A survivor of domestic abuse.

A lover of nature and food, the mountains and the sea.

A walker, gardener and maker of beautiful things.

A hot air balloon pilot and (most recently) a diver who delights in seeing the world from different angles and perspectives.

None of these identities defines me. Makes me who I am.

And as much as I try to separate these identities from one another, to meet the expectations of a world that seemingly feels more comfortable when people can be categorised, boxed in, they inevitably influence and inform one another. As I’ve grown as a person I’ve become less interested in conforming to other people’s assumptions and expectations. Less willing to conform. To play ball. To make people feel comfortable. These identities sit comfortably alongside each other, no longer shouting or jostling for position.

Wordsmith: Heaven Crawley

Designer maker: Heaven Crawley

Photographer: Heaven Crawley


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