With interests and expertise in feminism, gender politics and social movements around everything from sex to race and rock and roll, Dr Rebecca Sheehan shares the stories of the objects in her work space and how they reflect her world view.
Dr Rebecca Sheehan’s expertise ranges from feminist and gender history to social movements in the US, including teaching an undergraduate subject, ‘Sex, Race and Rock in the USA’. With several moves between Australia and the US, she has learned to travel light, but she found a few things in her office to talk to us about.
I’m not generally a fan of sport but I saw Rocky III when I was a kid. My mum’s an immigrant, and Rocky is an underdog I related to. A lot of the great film directors like John Huston and Martin Scorsese made boxing films because they provide a way of looking at the intersections of ethnicity, gender and class. I still find the fighting metaphor really powerful. If I’m having a difficult time, I’ll listen to the Rocky soundtrack for inspiration.
My first published article was initially presented as a paper at a conference at Harvard University about the global 1970s. There were papers about disease eradication, the rise of securitisation, nuclear parity, and other more traditional historical topics. Then my paper talked about groupies and sex, and the article had sections about David Bowie and Jesus Christ Superstar. I felt like a cat in the wind! But I maintain that my subjects are as important to understanding history as others.
I read an article about ‘First Dogs’, which are the dogs of US presidents in the White House. Kids write to the dog instead of the President, so a person has the job of responding to those letters. A workmate gave me Bo, who is the current First Dog, because of my love of animals and Barack Obama. I think for the US, Obama’s election is one of the most significant things that has happened in my lifetime. And I love the story that Obama made a deal with his wife, Michelle, that he’d quit smoking if he could run for the presidency. The deal with his daughters was that they could get a dog.
My brother said I’d never be a true guitar player unless I could play the whole David Bowie songbook and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. So I did. But then I stopped playing guitar because I found that process so traumatic! I was not a huge Bowie fan when I was growing up. Then I started studying Bowie as a cultural icon. He created a public place for people to experiment. I think it is so meaningful for a pop artist to have had that sort of impact on people’s lives. I still get emotional thinking about him.
I bought this magazine partly because of the headline: ‘Saucy feminist that even men like’. Right there is the idea that feminists are angry and man-haters, and men hate them back. These days Germaine contributes to negative perceptions about herself, with things like her transphobic comments, but she’s always been a provocateur. She sold her personal archives for $2 million and put that money towards her rainforest charity. That’s not all over the newspapers. I don’t agree with her on a number of key issues, but I think she is a profoundly brilliant person who hasn’t been given her historical due.
My partner was working on the Jezabels’ first full-length album, Prisoner, when I was about to have our child, Reyna. Everything was timed so the album would be finished the day before she was due, but she came a month early. I told him to focus on the album. That was really hard for me, but then he was nominated for two ARIA Awards and the album won Best Independent Album. All the Jezabels are graduates of the University of Sydney. The lead singer and lyricist, Hayley Mary, consciously explores emotions and particularly the state of being a woman, which is a significant interest of mine.
I worked in an internet company that streamed online music content in New York, and all the guys had action figures on their desks. When they gave me Trinity, it was a sign of respect. The President of that company, Les Garland, was one of the co-founders of MTV. He was always super nice to me, and encouraged my academic interests. He now gives a Skype lecture every year for my music course. He really embodies ’70s and ’80s rock’n’roll, and he has stories about everyone. That history is embedded in the Trinity doll. In the film, Trinity was incredibly brave and strong. She reminds me to try to be the same.
Photography by Louise Cooper