As an Nua Interviews: ‘Women are Boring’ Founders, Catherine Connolly and Grace Mc Dermott.

Women Are Boring describe themselves as ‘dedicated to disseminating interesting research by interesting women.’ Founded by PhD students Catherine Connolly and Grace Mc Dermott in 2016, Women are Boring aims to challenge female stereotypes in mainstream media, to boost womens’ profile in academia, to provide a platform for female experts to network and to promote interdisclipinary research. So far, they’ve exceeded their expectations and look set to expand into podcasts and events in 2017.

Siún: How did you meet?

Catherine: In DCU, if you do a PhD, depending on the School you’re in, there are compulsory courses in Research Design, Statistics and a few others. Grace and I were both in the Research Design module, which is great because we wouldn’t have met otherwise and some aspects of our research have similarities .

Siún: What are your fields of study?

Catherine: I’m looking at the US targeted killing programme  in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, how it affects international law on the use of force in self-defence and the law of armed conflict, and I also look at the use of armed drones and the rhetoric the U.S. uses to justify the programme.

Grace: I am looking at the role journalists of Middle Eastern/ North African dissent play in the US mainstream news. Ultimately, I am investigating the impact ethnic/religious identity has on news texts, visibility and journalism.

Siún: Obviously, both of those topic are connected in a few ways, not least in the way women are represented..

Catherine: Yes, I’m in Law and Government and Grace is in Communications and without the classes we would never have met. We wanted to promote interdisciplinary conversations on the blog between researchers, to have people in Arts and Humanities talking to those in Science and vice versa. If you don’t do that, you’re going to miss out on things that could inform your research or possibly even change your thinking on aspects of it, or how you approach it.

Siún: From my experience in academia, I would say that interdisciplinary work has been slow to take hold, it still feels like academia can be tunnel-vision work.

Catherine: You do see when people try the interdisciplinary approach, there can be a lot of push back. I think everyone loses out if we reject it out of hand.

Grace: I think especially with the Humanities. For me, the media is a product and a formative element of history and what’s going on in the world right now. For example, I’m looking at Islam in the media so for me to never sit down with someone in Law and Government or War Studies would be hugely remiss.

Women are Boring
Grace and Catherine, Founders of Women are Boring

Siún: How did the conversation about Women in Research come about?

Grace: We’re sitting in classrooms with women who are doing really interesting, groundbreaking research. There are female researchers curing cancer, mediating longstanding political issues and taking on social inequality. Unfortunately, a lot of the news we still see about women focuses on aesthetic things, which is of course valid to a point. But there is no diversity there in the conversation, which is a problem. We first started talking about the blog when we realized that we were surrounded by smart women who we never saw on television or in the paper, which is something we both wanted. When you’re working in academia or anywhere really, you want to have role models and those role models are really hard to find sometimes. One of the main aims became a place for intellectual female role models from a diverse range of subjects.

Catherine: In terms of strategy, we want to normalize the female intellectual. In the UK and Ireland, women make up only 24% of the experts referred to in mainstream media. Often when they are referred to, it’s in traditionally ‘female’ arenas of research. So, we had the idea first but we didn’t have the name yet. One day whilst stuck in traffic on the way to DCU, the phrase ‘Women are Boring’ came into my head and I googled it and found tons and tons of forums discussing how boring and stupid women are. Coincidentally, the week before the hashtag #womenareboring had trended in Arabic.

Grace: Only last week a UK publication ran with an article on ‘What men find boring about women’. So, we are consistently seeing echoes of the name everywhere, but thankfully, we’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback on the name. The only negative reaction we’ve had was from a few men, some of whom said we were just ‘looking for attention’, which of course we are, we’re looking for attention for all of these amazing women!

Catherine: There were two main driving forces behind the blog; first, we were working alongside these women whose research was never seen outside their fields, and secondly, we wanted to encourage public engagement with research. There’s such fascinating stuff going on but unless you have access to an academic journal, you’re likely never to hear about it. Most research doesn’t get read, and a lot of it is funded by tax-payers. We wanted a space where anyone could come and see the research taking place in a range of fields, all over the world. We have had such diverse work come in; research we ourselves would never have known existed – for example, we have one woman who researches how fairy tales have an evolutionary benefit, linking story-telling to science.

Women are Boring logo

Siún: Much of what you’ve said echoes why I started this website, much of what goes on in the Irish language gets pushed to oneside in favour of the traditional negative discourse around the language and its community.

Catherine: Yes. We’re seeking to dispel the ‘ivory tower’ image of academia, which I think still exists but is waning. People often don’t see academics as ‘real people’ who can also struggle to pay rent and mortgages and bills. Especially now, if you’re early in your research career, it’s so hard to get a job and contracts can be terrible. It has become a very precarious work environment for many people. Often, people ask ‘what do you actually do?’ so the blog showcases what academics do.

Siún: What has been the best part of the work, to date?

Grace: Along with women being invisible in the media, one of the other stereotypes often pedalled is women against women. We have had no funding, absolutely no money and we have had nothing but support from women, educated and non-educated, in the traditional sense, women who are interested in change and learning new things. The project is run by two women who work in tandem on everything. We don’t do any press appearances or interviews without both of us being present, partly to show women can work together conducively and effectively. We work off a huge base of women who want to support women, and that is a wonderful thing. Again, we have male readers, which is great but we want to shift the dial on women working together compassionately. That for me, is the biggest thing, it’s a female-led organisation and female-supported and it has been received better than anything we could’ve ever imagined.

Siún: I’ve had an almost identical experience with women for my own work with As an Nua, they’ve been unfailingly generous with their time, respectful of my work and happy to cooperate in unpaid work. It’s been the most wonderful eye-opener.  So, what’s next for Women Are Boring?

Catherine: We have some great pieces coming up – the calendar is full-up until May already! Some incredible stuff, for example, a woman who works in monkey welfare,another woman who has written on peace agreements in Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland, pieces on asthma research, on gender identity in international human rights – so much interesting research! We have plans for a podcast at some point, to feature some of our contributors. And we’re also hoping to host some events, probably  in Dublin first, something casual with two or three experts in diverse fields speak about their work.

Grace: We would love to feature an Irish language researcher so please get in touch if you’re a woman in Irish language academia!

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Have a look at the latest on the blog here

Big, big thanks to Catherine and Grace for their generosity with their valuable time.