Lead academic: Dr Kate Hext (English)

Gender inequality: how can we create a language of equal rights for the twenty-first century?

Challenge overview

From Hollywood and Washington to Westminster and the BBC, inequality and sexual harassment are finally at the top of the news agenda. The explosive revelations about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have shone a light on the often endemic problem of the sexual exploitation of women and men, with Theresa May vowing to take ‘serious action’ to root it out of political life. Meanwhile, the gender pay-gap and widespread reports of employers side-stepping legislation to undermine employees on maternity leave illustrate a culture of more subtle gender inequality.At the same time, the landscape of gender is altering forever with the emergence of transgender rights, which poses important questions for the meaning of gender and equality for transgender people. Now one of the most pressing questions is how we can build an environment in which harassment and inequality are no longer allowed to take place, beginning with the language and images that define our society and places of work.

This is a very dynamic challenge focused on one of the most contemporary challenges faced by society and in the workplace in the 21st-century. It will introduce you to a range of key debates including the shifting definition of sexual harassment and inequality across periods and cultures, including the emerging area of transgender rights; the ethics of complicity; defining professional boundaries in the workplace; how to sensitively address cultures of inequality; interpreting the law; and the language and symbolism of sexual power. 

Enquiry groups

Following introductory sessions students will work in small independent interdisciplinary groups to address one central issue in a creative way: producing a short film, a poster, or a pamphlet, with the opportunity to work with external stakeholders such as charities and schools. As part of these projects students will learn some of the following skills: how to pitch to specific audiences (in words and images); how to address sensitive issues with clarity; how to research and analyse power relations in language and behaviour; how to articulate applied moral questions and provide reasoned answers. 

Is the Harvey Weinstein scandal indicative of an endemic problem in the Hollywood film industry? And how does Hollywood define gender norms in our society?

How can we define the principles of transgender equal rights?

How can young women and men (16-18) develop a vocabulary for effectively understanding and asserting their rights?

What policies are in place for effectively dealing with issues of male and female sexual harassment in the university? How can university policy-makers learn from recent discussions of sexual harassment to ensure that these are fit for purpose?

Evidence shows that men find it more difficult to report abuse. So how can we best empower men by researching and representing their experience?