Flat White

What’s going on in our universities? Don’t ask

12 May 2021

3:08 PM

12 May 2021

3:08 PM

If you’re lucky enough not to receive the daily briefing from The Conversation website, that showcase for the creme of academe, you will have missed a stunning piece from University of Melbourne water resources specialist Anna Kosovac, ‘Boys and their toys’: how overt masculinity dominates Australia’s relationship with water.

Yes. That’s right. ‘Boys and their toys’: how overt masculinity dominates Australia’s relationship with water.


If one met Ms Kosovac, an apt question might not be “What do you do?”, but “Why?”

We read the article so you don’t have to, but here is the Reader’s Digest condensed version:

In Australia over recent months, the fury of women has been hard to ignore. The anger, much of it directed at the toxic masculine culture of Parliament House, has sparked a national conversation about how these attitudes harm women.

The movement has led me to think about how masculine cultures pervade our relationship with water. I worked as a civil engineer in the water industry for nine years… I’m now a water policy researcher, and in a recent paper I explored how dominant masculinity is limiting our response to dire water problems…

Under this way of thinking, water is to be controlled, re-purposed and rerouted as needed. I believe we must reassess these old methods. Does it really need to be all about control and power…

In the case of federal parliament, the toxic masculinity problem has partly been blamed on a lack of women in senior roles. Similarly, in the area of water supply, sewerage and drainage services, only 19.8% of the workforce comprises people who identify as women (compared to 50.5% across all industries)…

However creating a more diverse workforce does not automatically lead to a diversity of thinking. In the case of water management, hiring women, or others such as LGBTI and Indigenous employees, does not necessarily mean their contributions are valued. Very often, a masculine culture prevails…

Exerting control over water – say, building an extensive sewer network and water supply system – may have been needed when Australia was modernising. But now it’s time to take a more humble approach that works in tandem with the environment.

Get that. Building sewers and water supply systems was quite possibly wrong, apparently.

That might explain why we’re thirsting for something different from our universities — and why we’re in the shit.

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