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High tea in blue stockings

The Tasmanian University Union Northern SRC and National Tertiary Education Union joined forces for a good cause on Wednesday, to co-host a high tea to raise awareness for Bluestocking Week. The high tea, held at the newly developed Grove cafe at the university’s Newnham campus, also raised approximately $700 for the Malala fund.

Three members of parliament united under the bluestocking banner, including Liberal member for Bass Sarah Courtney, Labor member for Bass Michelle O’Byrne, and Greens member for Bass Andrea Dawkins.

Bluestocking Week is an annual celebration aiming to empower women on campuses. The name is derived from an 18th century term used to describe those who were going to, or had graduated from, a university or college. The term held mainly negative connotations for mainly educated women, as blue stockings were considered to be shabby and informal compared to black silk stockings. As such, those educated men and women labelled with the term were considered to be of less significance than others.

Eventually, individuals found a way to own the once derogatory title when Elizabeth Montagu formed the Blue Stockings Society. The development of the literary society of both men and women was to provide a platform to further their education. Despite the notion being connected to both genders, it is commonly used among feminists to relate to the empowerment of women through education.

There is some contention as to the exact background and etymology of the term, as it could also be considered a bold statement of restrictive social constructs. Regardless of origin, the bluestocking branding was owned by intellectual women and possibly men of the 1700’s. More recently the term gained traction as the focal point of a campaign for increased access to university, rights to equality in the workforce, and access into parliament for women.

Key to the discussion of the once controversial debate is twenty-first century access to education. Movements such as Bluestocking paved the way for our predecessors’ equal access to education in Australia. Likewise, women can now attend a higher education institution without discrimination on the basis of gender.

Sarah Courtney, member for Bass summarised the purpose of the event in a nutshell, when she said, “Education empowers women and men alike, and provides a very important platform for a fair go for everyone regardless of gender.”

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