Power Dressing examines how dress codes create and uphold identity expectations in the academy. As universities become more corporatised women academics perform additional invisible labour as they find ways to adopt and adapt their appearances to fit.
A reversible jacket is the focus of Power Dressing. The jacket resembles the masculinist dress codes that emerged in the 1980s. The sumptuous fabrics and large shoulder pads are reminiscent of popular culture and television shows that began to script women characters as powerful, wealthy, in control, untouchable – and also as highly contrived: glamorous, subjugated, identical.
The Power Dressing jacket is reversible because women must constantly switch roles in the various contexts they find themselves in as professionals. The metallic side is marked and tarnished, symbolising the armour women develop to fend off blows to confidence and legitimacy, and the common feelings women have as imposters in the academy.
The fur side is fake, referencing the ways senior women are predatory in the academy, taking up senior roles such as Deans, and roles in the executive. But – the fur side is also about being prey. Wild cats are rare, prized for their fur and distinct markings. Women can be powerful in the academy, but they are always, also, prey. Their presence in the academy is always at risk, always contingent.
The jacket is worn by feminist educators from around the world. Each person strikes a pose of strength, or power (in whatever way they wish), and a photograph is taken. The photographs intervene in each institution in continuous ways and in ways that speak of the power and diversity of each feminist educator.
The collection forms part of the #FEAS – Feminist Educators Against Sexism project feministeducatorsagainstsexism.com
2016: Developing arts-based innovations into sexism in the academy. Australian Association of Research in Education innovations grant, $18,000
2019-onwards. Power Dressing. Instagallery @linda_knight_feas
12/2018. Powerful Dressing: artfully challenging sexism in the academy. University of Sydney, Australia.
Knight, L., Gray, E., & Blaise, M. (2020). Powerful dressing: artfully challenging sexism in the academy. In Carol A. Taylor, Jasmine B. Ulmer, & Christina Hughes (Eds.). Transdisciplinary feminist research: innovations in theory, method and practice. London: Routledge