Sydney University’s vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, is badgering the federal government for research funding to replace the fee losses from what was its pre-COVID 39 per cent international enrolment. I’m sure his university’s medical and scientific research is valuable but I don’t know about the campus’s feminism/gender research output. I also notice that nine of Spence’s professors and another five faculty types pledged allegiance to Extinction Rebellion last September, and wonder why they expect continued state funding to subvert civic laws and institutions. I agree with Spence that, as he looks for $270 million worth of economies, no area should be sacrosanct (except his pace-setting $1.5m remuneration package).
However, my focus on Sydney University research in this article involves its program since 2016, “Hacking the Anthropocene”. I’ll also review the Canada-based peer-reviewed journal Feral Feminisms promoted by the university, with its Sydney Environment Institute calling for submissions last month. Sydney and Melbourne university guest editors will Hack the Anthropocene and also the Capitalocene, Plantatitionocene (sic) and the Cthulucene (sic, should be Cthulhucene, not that it matters). For definition, check this footnote.
The previous Issue 9.2 featured poet Alok Vaid-Menon, who extols his beauty in the clip below.
‘They will say that femininity is not powerful,’ Vaid-Menon acknowledges, ‘but i [ok] have stopped traffic simply by going outside’. The stakes of their public transfemininity remain laser clear, still, when they fantasize, ‘what would it mean to no longer have to be fabulous to survive?’”
I’ll return to Feral Feminisms later but will first deal with the university’s Hacking the Anthropocene (etc) seminars.
This venture began in April 2016 as “Feminist Queer Anticolonial Propositions” under the auspices of its foundation Sydney Environment Institute.  The opening “family-friendly” SEI event featured “a unique gastronomic experience”. The invitation says,
Participants at this evening of art, conversation, exploration, and digestion will be encouraged to show their debt to (un)charismatic others and ask the world of invisible beings about what our common futures might hold.
Interdisciplinary US artist, the aptly-named Kathy High, set the tone with a “multimedia and interactive exploration of the power of poo. It investigates our intimate relation to the gut microbiome and asks whose poo would make you a superstar.” Usefully, a following discussion “Volatising Bouquet” involved smell research. As speaker Stephanie Springgay, a Toronto associate professor put it,
When smells are taken into the body for survival or pleasure, we open up our body to that which is not us; to the other…
The academic, nose and climate-empowering evening was rounded off with a talk “Caution, workers below”, by environmental artist Perdita Phillips, “exploring the boundaries between human and nonhuman worlds”. Her accessory was “a modified ouija board, designed to communicate with the world of termites.”
The symposium series founder was Sydney University gender lecturer Dr. Astrida Neimanis, “co-hosted in 2017/2018 by Dr. Jennifer Hamilton of Composting [no misprint] Feminisms at Sydney University.” The symposium has had three runs in Sydney, culminating in 2018 with sessions at the Sydney University Womens’ College on “What do we want?” The answer turned out to be “excellent coffee and snacks”. Neimanis and Hamilton blurbed,
From the desirous pull of the fossil fuelled high-life to grass roots activist demands (‘what do we want?’), we ask if it is possible to pursue both extravagant pleasure and intersectional, intergenerational justice. We hope you can join us for a day of communal thought, wild performance and excellent coffee and snacks (you know you want it).
Last year the scholarly research-fest migrated to Melbourne. There it featured an imported NZ scholarly expert on tree-humping and “walkshop” people honouring the ingredients of concrete in pathways (seriously).
But let’s get back to the 2016 inaugural symposium. I’m upset to have missed the “Howling the Anthropocene!” talk by Wollongong University’s Genders Professor Fiona Probyn-Rapsey (now with Sydney Uni and exploring, among other things, “critical whiteness studies”).
Consider the dingo howl – not wild but periurban. How does a dingo, once tethered to a sanctuary fence, her body bearing old wounds of cigarette burns, learn to howl alongside the howling of inmates? The howling of inmates together, started off by one, joined by others – is a sound for the anthropocene — a goodnight, a nightmare, a prisoners [sic] lament, a warning, an eery [sic] embrace, a speculation, an agreement to sing along, a wave at the outside.
Another speaker, possibly taking the urine on the whole show, was Regrette Etcetera (below), talking on “Stretch Marx: Oestrogenic Ecosystems, Solastalgia, and Species-Panic in the Capitalocene”. She self- touted as “a Sydney-based DJ, performer, artist, activist, whore etcetera, with a set of marketable identity descriptors that land university gigs like this.”
Ms Etcetera’s talk was
a chirpily chiliastic whirlwind tour of some ambivalent Anthropocenes, tracing productive pollutions in Natures flooded with ‘gender- bending xenoestrogens’, and following the species-panics of an imperilled whiteness through the great ‘shemale-ing of humanity’ and on into an unknown land beyond Capitalism.
The next 2017 “Hacking” by the cutting-edge Sydney Uni research crowd was about “weathering”. It was supported by the SEI, the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre, a Swedish arts bunch and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.
One speaker was fashionista Lisa Heinze on “What to Wear to Weather the End of the World as We Know It: A Future Fashion Manifesto.” I suspected she was also taking the urine, but she turned out to be
a sustainable lifestyle advocate currently pursuing a PhD on sustainable fashion at the University of Sydney… and a Fashion Revolution committee member” tackling fashion “for an environmentally and socially just future.
Drs Neimanis and Hamilton were doubly pained about the Anthropocene because of its racial whiteness.
Moving ‘Towards the idea of a black Anthropocene’ would re-centre that which is already centred in the Anthropocene—race—and would move against the implicit structural whiteness of the Anthropocene… potentially towards other more accountable, decolonised, geosocial futures.
The Anthropocene was also danced by arts specialists for the 2019 Sydney Festival, after a week-long workshop led by five choreographers, once more with Sydney Environment Institute en pointe. As sponsors explain,
The point is not to paint, or write, or dance, the scalar immensity of the Anthroprocene into a single paragraph or snapshot. This would just reinforce the Anthropocene’s seeming distance from our lived experience. Instead, arts and humanities endeavours find ways to make connections to that more-than-human scale through the sensory apparatuses of our bodies: a tastebud finds a pathway to a history of colonialism; the affective tenor of a metaphor brings us into the breathless bottom of the sea; a curved arm in an antenna-like gesture establishes our animal kinship to insect species rapidly disappearing.
This brings my essay back to 2020’s impending bunyip version of Canada’s magazine Feral Feminisms.
The Sydney Environment Institute has invited ferals of all sexes to “address issues of the following: animal-human-ecological-vegetal-microbial-geological-cyborg relations.” Cyborgs, since you asked, are fictive beings combining human and mechanical life. Their relation to the purported climate emergency is obscure to me but the Sydney Environment Institute and the Feral Feminisms peer-reviewed journal take cyborgs seriously.
Feral Feminisms founding editor in perpetuity Ela Przybylo is a gender professor at Illinois State University, teaching queer and trans writing with a specialty in asexuality:
Przybylo looks to feminist political celibacy/asexuality, lesbian bed death, the asexual queer child, and the aging spinster as four figures that are asexually resonant…” Another of her books “explores ugliness in relation to the intersectional processes of racialization, colonization and settler colonialism, gender-making, ableism, heteronormativity, and fatphobia.
For those of a masochistic bent, the video below delivers a full hour of Ms Przybylo’s insights.
The journal is self or donor-funded, but obviously some work is done in academics’ flexitime.
Issue 12 of Feral Feminisms is guest-edited by Melbourne-based academic Dr Hayley Singer, a research associate of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. This Centre of Excellence was set up by the Rudd-Gillard governments with $24 million funding for 2011-2018, at the time the largest funding award to the humanities in Australian history. From 2018, says Wiki, the UWA-based collective has continued with funding from its node universities. It has 14 chief investigators, over 38 full-time postdoctoral fellows, 37 postgrads and more than 100 associate investigators. The 2017 “hack” symposium involved no fewer than four academics from the Emotions Centre.
Dr Singer (left) helpfully provides a playlist of her favourite songs to get contributors’ creative juices flowing. The playlist includes The Red Flag, People have the Power; Ship of Fools (could this be a low blow at UNSW’s Antarctic ice expert Chris Turney?), Love Yourself, Queendom, F—k You and God Only Knows.
For the guest-edited issue, the editorial directions for
queer, feminist, anti-colonial artists, scholars, and activists” say that the Anthropocene draws on settler colonial discourse, problematically homogenizes all humans as planet destroyers and implies that we are locked into these petrifying ways of being. As a colonial figure and inheritance, the Anthropocene is articulated as a teleological story-arc that jettisons ‘us all’ towards apocalypse but fails to interrogate which humans drive and benefit from ecological degradation. It fails to consider that social systems, rather than human nature, are the cause of such degradation. It figures and normalizes the privileged white cis-male as the epitome of human-ness.
Submissions can involve “a fingery theory” but even Google fails to explain the term.
While Anthropocene Hacking will make for a riveting Issue 12, Issue 2 (2014) is hard to beat, discoursing over 103 pages on “Feminist Un/Pleasure: Reflections upon Perversity, BDSM, and Desire.” I confess to a slightly prurient inspection of Issue 2 and was not disappointed. For example, contributor E. Gravelet writes,
Every kinky feminist queer that I have ever spoken to loves Macho Sluts. Well, maybe I’m just lucky enough to know the right people, but there appears to be an overarching consensus that Patrick Califia’s hotly controversial 1988 collection of dyke S/M smut should be considered a classic.
The article appends a footnote which suggests why many a contributor is referred to as “they”:
Please note that, since this time, [author] Patrick Califia has transitioned and identifies as a transman.
An intriguing chapter in the index was “Tomatoes as Trauma” by Joseph Labine. An editor blurbs: “Using the soft, permeable and vulnerable flesh of the tomato, Joseph Labine exposes the thin borders between pain and sex.”
The issue features a screenplay celebrating the McGill University’s Women’s Centre. Screen character “Ummni” is authored by Ummni Khan, an Associate Law Professor at Canada’s Carleton University, specialising in research into BDSM and sex work. Her character says, “I’d hurry over to the university centre to meet up with my soul sisters and debrief our daily encounters with patriarchy in a safe, ‘womyn-only’ space. Sexuality was our hottest topic.” Words like “gender stereotypes,” “misogyny,” and “subversion” can be heard. A third woman – self- chosen name Dragyn – is boiling water. The walls are covered with political posters advocating women’s rights.
Later they adjourn to a club:
In one corner are foot fetishists sucking hairy toes and massaging tired insteps. In another, an adult man is in diapers, holding a baby bottle in one hand and a beer in the other. By the window, a woman outfitted in the classic kinky nurse costume is leading her “patient” around on a dog leash. In the centre, are two men taking turns whipping a very butch woman tied to some hooks in a crucifixion pose.
Ummni (voice-over): Their audacity was stunning. Heart-breaking … I discovered stark differences in sexual practices, pleasures, aesthetics, and ethos, ranging from the classic s/m leather-dom to the animal-emulating furries. But there we were, bound together by our perverted sexuality and the disgust we evoked in others. It was sublime.
The edition was not short on supervisory oversight, with three editors, one guest editor, nine on the editorial board, six on the communications committee, and 13 on the advisory board, plus peer reviewers. A contributor thanked the editors for “their brilliantly committed work, meticulousness, and keen expertise throughout the process of creating this issue”. The issue was workshopped weekly at “FAG (Feminist Art Gallery) with Professor Allyson Mitchell “contributing chocolate mint tea and Deep Lez insights.” Amongst her other groundbreaking works, Professor Mitchell boasts on her university web page of recently co-constructing “Killjoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House” whose goal is to
provoke and pervert. The humorous and costumed characters in the kastle – including polyamorous vampiric grannies, a demented women’s studies professor, and lesbian zombie folksingers – give expression to old and new anxieties, creating a space for critique, affect, and discussion.
The edition followed Toronto’s 2014 Feminist Porn Conference, run in conjunction with the Feminist Porn Awards, analogous to the Walkley Awards handed out for unionised downunder leftist journalists. Described by the issue’s contributors as an “unprecedented platform” for “audiences full of dykes”, the issue saw one feminist stressing “how thrilled she was to be at FPcon [Feminist Porn Conference], how enormous were its accomplishments, and how stunning were its alternative visions.”
Other editions involved “interactive praxis of radical world-making” and “Disrupting U.S. state projects of devaluation and disposability.” The journal offered feminist responses to “cancel culture, rape culture, white supremacy, Native dispossession, xenophobia, heteronormativity, homonormativity, and other practices of exclusion/inclusion.”
The magazine sought reviewers not for critical appraisals but to “celebrate” the works of “trans, nonbinary, or Two-Spirit person[s].”
Issue No 10 wanted contributions relating, among other things, to queerness, transness, capitalism, colonialism, blackness, whiteness and sex work, “topics that are close to our queer fem(me)inine hearts!” Another issue focused on “imperial and colonial forces” and necropolitics determining “who is invited into the realm of social life and who, instead, is confined to social death?” (I know that “social death” feeling from trying to socialise in Dan Andrew’s locked-down People’s Republic of Victoria).
If you think LGBTQI is confusing, these Feminism scholars have hardly started. One reference is “Expanding the Rainbow: Exploring the Relationships of Bi+, Trans, Ace, Polyam, Kink, and Intersex People (Sense).” Incidentally “Q/WOC” stands for “Queer/Women of Color”.
Although past issues have been Canada-based, I felt a quiet pride that one scholar-contributor working on “post-structuralist and feminist theories of the body” hailed from Latrobe University, currently at risk of going broke.
The peer review process at Feral Feminisms is interesting, given that “peer-reviewed” papers normally count towards academics’ promotion, allocation of funds to departments and universities’ global ranking. Feral Feminisms says, “Submissions are subject to a two-tiered process. Guest Editors review all submissions and select for peer review those submissions that best fit the aims and scope of the issue. Subsequently, pieces under consideration are subject to double-anonymous peer review, are reviewed by peer reviewers, and receive collegial feedback on their work.”
Sounds good, until one finds:
Feral Feminisms needs Peer Reviewers! We invite prospective peer-reviewers with interests in intersectional feminist theory, queer and trans theory, anti-racism, decoloniality and Indigenous studies…Feral Feminisms welcomes involvement from individuals at various career stages within academia and beyond and particularly encourages graduate student participation. No previous peer review experience is required.” (My emphasis).
Just about all Australian universities have gender studies departments charging young females fat fees for feminist/queer/green-left teaching. The staff have become so inbred that the weirdness of their output goes unquestioned. The motto of my own alma mater, UWA, is “Seek Wisdom”. You won’t find much of it in today’s arts faculties. Note also the Sydney feminists’ lame attempts to attach themselves to the global warming scare. If the scare is a dog, those are its fleas.
Tony Thomas’s new book, Come to think of it – essays to tickle the brain, is available as book ($34.95) or e-book ($14.95) here.
The invitation has been taken down but read: “Call for submissions for Feral Feminisms’ special issue: Submit your written or artistic piece for the upcoming publication, CFP Issue 12 – Do-It-Together (DIT): Hacking the Anthropocene, by Sunday 31 May. Your piece will address issues of the following: animal-human-ecological-vegetal-microbial-geological-cyborg relations.” The deadline has been extended to June 13.
 “The diverse earth-wide tentacular powers and forces and collected things with names like Naga, Gaia, Tangaroa (burst from water-full Papa), Terra, Haniyasu-hime, Spider Woman, Pachamama, Oya, Gorgo, Raven, A’akuluujjusi, and many many more.”
 Incidentally, the Anthropocene as a geologic era does not exist.
 This event was made possible by funding and support provided by the Sydney Environment Institute, with additional assistance from the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry of the University of Sydney.
 “This walkshop engages critically and sensually with what is beneath our feet, honouring both the ingredients that make up the concrete pathways that hold us and the soil beneath … We name and acknowledge the sand, lime, silt and clay and through an immersive process will explore the deep time … asking what is our responsibility to honour the concrete for both its utilitarian and multi-specied complexity and our obligation to unearth the negations of this concrete for the soil beneath.”
 The book “bolstered a burgeoning sex-positive leather dyke community”.
 For example, the ABC’s Cardinal Pell-chasing Louise Milligan won two Quill awards from the Melbourne Press Club, including the Gold Quill for best story of the year, and her book on child abuse allegations against Cardinal Pell was awarded the 2017 Walkley Book Award and the Sir Owen Dixon Chambers Law Reporter of the Year Award. In a unanimous decision last April, the High Court annulled Pell’s convictions.
 Sydney University: “The study of gender is one of the most intellectually challenging and socially important areas of enquiry in the Humanities and Social Sciences.” Its SEI offers “Gender and Environment (GCST263) — This unit uses feminist frameworks to investigate how environmental problems are shaped by intersecting factors of gender, race, sexuality, ability, economic status, and colonialisms. Drawing on examples such as climate change, toxic contamination, water privatisation, and resource extraction, this unit examines the material and conceptual links between human and non-human natures, and cultural, political, economic and social forces.”