Category: Patriarchy

Gender in Research Conference University of Liverpool (09/04/13)

A few days ago I attended a conference at the University of Liverpool which focused on ‘Gender in Research’. I was really pleased when I come across the event online because the majority of conferences I have attended have been a train journey away but this time it was on home ground.

ChathamHouse-1WEBThe aim of the conference was to provide a ‘safe’ and welcoming place for PGR students to share their research, whatever stage it is at. The day was organised by Charlotte Barlow and Dorota Opyd who are both PGR students at the university and there were around 30-40 delegates in attendance with some great sessions planned.

Below are brief summaries of some of the presentations I attended.

Lucy Bradshaw, who has a background in career development, discussed some interesting findings that came up while doing her PhD research on the career paths of young men in Hull. Lucy found that in the construction industry in particular, ‘banter’ is used as a means of policing masculinities and is a big part of the job. Young men are encouraged in training centres and colleges to partake in banter in preparation for the ‘real world’ and those who can’t take it are weeded out. This was described as ‘for the best’ by some members of the training staff. When exploring the impact the banter had on women in the training centres, Lucy found that the few women who worked or studied there would generally exclude themselves from banter which is characteristically misogynous and often homophobic, however this did not stop them from being on the receiving end of it at times.

Ramona Garland & Mark Carney presented a paper entitled ‘Porn as Simulacra; Porn as Social Malefactor’. This presentation was fuelled by passion as Ramona argued that porn is extremely harmful, not only to intimate relationships and those who work within the industry, but to all women. Claiming that pornography is worthless in society, Ramona and Mark aim to develop a theoretical framework utilising Baudrillard’s concept of simulacra. I think this is really interesting way of looking at porn and hope to see more people engaging with Baudrillard in this way (mainly because I love Baudrillard). However, I think it would have been beneficial if the paper had been more objective, perhaps touching on the other discourses which surround pornography.

Samantha Colling presented a really interesting paper on the music video aesthetics used in girl teen films. As I am currently researching representations of femininity in music videos, it was interesting to think about how the film industry adopts common music video aesthetics as a method of making the ordinary extraordinary in girl teen films. Samantha played a clip of a film to us which perfectly demonstrated the points made within her paper.

I spoke with Kirsten Smith throughout the day and I thought her research was really original as it focuses on espionage in popular culture and representations of gender. With some references to Bond, Kirsten presented a really interesting talk on the differences in how men and women spies are constructed. I learnt that espionage is a genre of equal readership by both men and women, although the majority of authors are male and representations of spies remain gendered.

Finally, and probably the highlight of the day, was Emily Nicholls’ talk on the nighttime economy in Newcastle and how females aged 18-25 (I think I have the sample right) conceptualise appropriate/inappropriate femininity within this context. Emily’s preliminary findings show that young women are concerned about fitting in with ‘others’ on a night out and that their dress and appearance is a way for them to communicate their femininity. Appropriate femininity is making an effort but not too much effort, drinking but not to excess and managing risk effectively, such as any unwanted attention. The young women interviewed spoke about ‘other’ women displaying inappropriate forms of femininity and differentiated themselves from this ‘other’. The concept of a ‘female gaze’ was discussed and Emily made reference to a number of theorists in her presentation. This was particularly helpful to me as her research overlaps with what I am looking at.

SchoolOfficesOverall the conference was very successful, set up by PGRs for PGRs, there was a welcoming atmosphere at the university and everyone was really friendly. I learned a lot about other people’s research interests throughout the day and because the conference was in Liverpool where I live, I was able to connect with other PGRs in the city. All in all, it was an extremely beneficial experience.

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Body Projects Conference University of York (09/03/13)

Conference Summary

At the beginning of March 2013 I attended my second academic conference. It was a postgraduate conference entitled ‘Body Projects’ and when I first saw the Call for Papers I thought it seemed really interesting as some of the themes related to my own research interests.

The conIMG_0609[1]ference was at the University of York so I set off to get the train at about 6am. When I arrived the university staff and students were really welcoming and I spent some time looking through the conference program before the first session began.

During the morning sessions, there was a focus on female bodybuilding and how it can conflict with traditional notions of femininity and heteronormativity. Dr Gemma Commane gave a great talk based on Jodie Marsh and how Jodie’s status as a glamour model juxtaposes her choice to modify her body with tattoos and piercings and her choice to pursue a career in female bodybuilding. Really interesting!

A highlight of the day came from Tanita Maxwell and Sarah Peat, postgraduate students at the University of Aberdeen. Their paper looked at Suicidegirls.com which is an alt-porn website set up by women with the aim of challenging popular representations of beauty and sexuality. The Suicide Girls claim that they are not Baywatch girls and they are not Playboy girls, however, as Maxwell & Peat argue, the website does not really serve to challenge the existing order, in fact, over time the images of Suicide Girls have become increasingly ‘mainstream’ with the exception of tattoos and piercings. Maxwell & Peat also argue that a large majority of the images are of thin, white woman and when women are not white, for example, if they are Asian, they are often labelled ‘exotic’ by the site. Another interesting point about this talk is that it brought up issues surrounding the ownership of images on the website which I assume to be an important factor of agency for the girls involved.

IMG_0621[1]A separate point which came up during the day was the notion that conforming to popular forms of femininity can be interpreted as a kind of performative labour and entrepreneurship by women who will also often treat the body as a site of continual improvement. In keeping with this argument it was interesting to hear some of the speakers relate conformity to the experience of trans women whose attempts to fit in are often based on binary ideas and stereotypical representations of gender.

Perceptions of one’s own body was also a recurrent theme within the conference and a particularly interesting study by Dr Beth Bell of Northumbria University really inspired me. Beth’s presentation/paper was entitled “The Thin but not that thin Body Ideal: A Qualitative Glimpse into Adolescent Girls’ Personal Body and Beauty Ideals”. In the study participants were asked just one question- to describe what the perfect body is to them. It was really insightful to discover that the majority of girls had very specific ideas about what the perfect body looks like with “curvy but not fat” and “a small waist but not too thin” being the kind of answers that were given. Some of the girls rejected the idea that there is such a thing as the perfect body and others described a body drastically different to their own.

Other talks on the day included an insight into the Kickboxing culture of Dutch-Moroccan girls and how they avoid training hard, instead using kickboxing training as a symbol of status and a means of fitting in with their peers.

Overall the conference was exciting and very interesting! Hearing from the speakers about their wide range of research has definitely helped me to see where my own research ideas and aims fit within the existing literature, not just in relation to my own topic but the topics which surround it.

IMG_0634[1]When I got home I was really pleased with my daytrip and how well it went. I even managed to see some of the sites of York while I was there but it was rainy and miserable as you can see from my photo!

My next post will be a summary of a conference I attended this week at the University of Chester.

Young Sexualities Conference Cardiff University 25/01/13

Conference Summary

A few months ago I attended a conference in Cardiff (25/01/13) which focused on ‘Young Sexualities’. The conference title and programme attracted me and the scheduled talks on sexualisation, youth and sexuality, constructions of femininity and girls’ advertising experiences, all fell within my research interests.

After paying the conference attendance fee I booked my return train from Liverpool to Cardiff with the aim of making it a day trip. In the lead up to the conference it had been snowing a lot so I put my wellies on in preparation and upon arrival I found Cardiff to be as sludgy and cold as I had imagined it to be!

IMG_0376[1]I was all organised and knew where I was going. I had to get a train from Cardiff Central to Cathays, but while I was on this train I was told that it was running late and wouldn’t be stopping at any of the planned stations! So basically, I ended up in Ponty-somethingoranother at the end of the track which took about half an hour and then I had to wait another 20 minutes for a train back to Cathays!

After this detour of random Welsh towns I eventually arrived at the conference 45 minutes late. Luckily I hadn’t missed anything too exciting because the first talk I’d planned to attend had been cancelled and next up was the talk I was most looking forward to: ‘The Trouble with Sexualisation’ by PhD student Helen Williams.

Prior to the conference I had emailed Helen and we had a brief exchange about our research interests so I was really looking forward to hearing her speak.

In her presentation, Helen addressed the debate surrounding the term ‘sexualisation’ arguing that it is a troubling concept which problematises young female sexuality. Focusing on The Sexualisation of Young People Review by Linda Papadopolous (2009), Helen critiqued the policy approach to sexualisation by raising some very interesting points relating to moral panics, conservative values and the demonisation of young female sexuality. Helen argued that much of the discourse surrounding sexualisation tends to neglect female agency by adopting a protectionist approach through which young women are portrayed as the victims of a sexualised culture.

IMG_0374[1]Although heavily critical of ‘sexualisation’ as a concept, Helen also argued that there is a need to address the sexual images in society as well as a need for research into how young people themselves interpret sexual imagery. Helen suggests that addressing the sexual images in mass media should involve a more frank and open approach to sex education which includes the discussion of pornography and sex within relationships.

Overall, the presentation by Helen Williams prompted some helpful ideas for my own research. I was also introduced to a different point of view to my own as the points raised were something I had not previously considered in great detail. The talk made me reconsider how I had initially interpreted Papadopolous (2009) and having since re-read the review and having explored other critiques of sexualisation, I have now developed a more critical view of the framing and language used when focusing on issues surrounding sexism, sexual objectification and sexual imagery in general.

IMG_0363[1]The other speakers and posters displayed during the day added to my ideas about youth, sex and subjectivity. The whole event was really interesting and touched on issues surrounding female sexuality, agency and empowerment, which is what I had hoped for when I first read about the conference.

I was definitely pleased that I attended the conference, although, when it came down to the content of the presentations, there were only a few talks that I could draw inspiration from or apply to my own research. However, I don’t see this as a negative, I suppose that is what conferences are all about, you never know what research will be useful to your own until you hear or read about it.

During the day there were a few opportunities to network but as this was my first academic conference, I felt a little bit out of my depth and didn’t feel confident explaining my research to people. I kept myself to myself but hope to get more confidence over the coming months so that I can network successfully in the future as its a shame to waste such an opportunity!

Reflecting on the day, I feel that my trip to the ‘Young Sexualities’ conference in Cardiff was a very worthwhile experience. Having travelled there alone and attended talks which excited and inspired me, I was left with a great sense of achievement and independence.

My next post will feature a conference I attended at York University in March entitled ‘Body Projects’.

Book Summary: Walter, N. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism.

This book summary is part 3/3 and focuses on a contemporary feminist text written by Natasha Walter a British journalist, author and feminist.

Walter, N. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism. Virago Press, London.

Natasha_Walter_-_CR_Bohdan_CapNatasha Walter is a well known feminist and the author of The New Feminism (1998). In this text, Walter focused on what she believed to be the most worthy cause for contemporary feminism: economic and political equality. Walter (1998) claimed that women should not worry about objectification or sexism because these kinds of issues will fix themselves when women achieve equality in other areas. However, in Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010), Walter admits to having a massive change of heart and executes a successful U-turn arguing that sexual objectification of women is something to worry about and that if anything, it is becoming more, not less of a problem.

6a00d83451bcff69e201310f267332970c-300wiWalter’s (2010) main stance throughout Living Dolls is that there is a hyper-sexualisation of mass culture occurring across Western society. Accompanied by the proliferation of sexually objectifying images found in mass media, women now face an added pressure in order to fit the mould of femininity which is offered. Not only is beauty and slimness a must but increasingly so, sexiness is falling into the definition of what it means to be a woman.

Walter (2010) claims that female sexuality is often celebrated throughout the media but it is narrowly defined and fails to represent reality. Adopting the ethos of the sex and glamour industries, sex is framed as something a woman should perform; therefore women should continuously strive to improve in terms of sexual allure and their ability to please.

“The image of female perfection to which women are encouraged to aspire, has become more and more defined by sexual allure” p3.

In the first few chapters of the book Walter (2010) addresses the gender stereotyping of products and toys marketed at young people discussing the usual in regards to pink for girls and blue for boys. Then Walter (2010) moves on to argue that women are encouraged to look like dolls. Referring to the Girls Aloud dolls, the author argues that they are eerily identical to the real thing; both are perfectly airbrushed with big hair, smooth skin and trim bodies. For Walter (2010), they are interchangeable consumer objects and act as models for the next generation.

girls-aloud-pic-pa-841252739The book moves on to glamour modelling and lads magazines with the author able to offer an insight into the working of the glamour industry. Walter’s (2010) recall of the ‘Babes on a Bed’ contest she attended (where the girls compete to win a Nuts photoshoot) and her interviews with glamour girls are what make this book interesting and different. Walter (2010) successfully combines her evaluation of the hyper-sexualised culture she sees around her with the insider knowledge and words of women who work within the sex and glamour industries. In a non-judgemental manner she gives them a voice in her book. However, a critique of Walter (2010) is that whilst she does not neglect the agency and autonomy of the girls, she does not draw too much attention to it either. Some of the girls are happy doing what they do and some of them are not which is probably a fair analysis, but I do feel that this approach leaves the question open as to whether or not their work is truly empowering for women and this is something I would like to have read more about within the text.

Nuts UK September 11In reference to the book’s subtitle ‘the Return of Sexism’ Walter (2010) argues that the current feminist discourse surrounding female sexuality is more damaging than it is liberating as it merely encourages women to accept a sexist and sexual cultural landscape which largely caters to the fulfilment of male fantasies, ignoring genuine expressions of female sexuality and pleasure. Almost hijacking the rhetoric of choice and freedom, third wave feminism has taken the original feminist message and distorted it so that it fits the mould offered to women by the patriarchal system we live in. For Walter (2010) it is problematic to the point where women are almost taking part in their continual subordination.

Walter (2010) believes that the feminist rhetoric of choice and empowerment is now so deeply submerged within our hyper-sexualised culture that it can no longer represent true choice or real sexual liberation. The representations of female sexuality which we see most often are too tightly confined within the limited model of femininity continuously thrust upon us.

Walter (2010) really reminds me of Ariel Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture, which is a good thing. In fact, I think it goes a step further than Levy (2005) as Walter’s interview data makes her observations stronger than Levy’s (2005) which lack any real, empirical evidence.

The main criticism I have of the book is that it fails to address aspects of race or class in any great detail. Walter (2010) does briefly touch on class in relation to the career aspirations of young women. Referencing an interview with Dave Read, the Director of Neon Management, she claims that middle class parents do not have the same concerns regarding their daughters and the possibility that they might want to work in the sex or glamour industry. This is an interesting topic in its own right and it would have been beneficial to Walter’s work if she had expanded on some of the points made.

Despite some criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed this text, from beginning to end. I felt like it said everything I want to include in my own work. Walter (2010) explores different aspects of society and focusing on how sexual images are becoming increasingly dominant in mass culture, argues that sexism still exists and calls for feminists to recognise the new ways in which it works. This book builds on Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture and adds to the current debate surrounding sexualisation and women.

IMG_0268If you are interested in reading more of my book summaries please visit my previous posts in which I have written about feminist texts by Betty Friedan (1963) and Ariel Levy (2005).

Book Summary: Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.

This post is part 2/3 and follows on from last week’s summary of Betty Friedan’s classic 1963 feminist text, The Feminine Mystique.

Unfortunately due to having started a new job, I am now working 12 hour days which has left me with no time and no energy! Therefore the three planned ‘book reviews’ are turning more into ‘book summaries’ and although they lack any real critical reflection I hope that they will provide people with a general overview of the books considered.

Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Simon & Schulster, London.

ariel levyAriel Levy is a contributing editor at The New Yorker and was fairly unknown before breaking out in 2005 with one of the latest feminist texts to have mass appeal. The book looks at what Levy claims is ‘the rise of raunch culture’ and detailing the cultural context in which this is occurring, the author points the finger of blame in the direction of what she calls ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ (FCP).

According to Levy (2005) FCPs are women who make sex objects of themselves and other women and they are everywhere. Levy illustrates her theory with an array of testimonies and examples including the reality television programme ‘Girls Gone Wild’, the adoption of the Playboy brand logo by young girls, the popularity of celebrity sex tapes and the increase in cosmetic surgery procedures, in particular, breast implants and labiaplasty.

“We don’t even think about it anymore, we just expect to see women flashing and stripping and groaning everywhere we look”

The main point made throughout the text is that contemporary American culture is saturated with images of cartoonish Jessica Rabbit style representations of femininity- breast implants, collagen lips and stripper heels. Levy (2005) claims that this image is now so pervasive that it has become embedded in the subconsciousness of women to the point where they will imitate what they see to win approval from the opposite sex.

The author holds porn and glamour industries responsible for this uniform, ubiquitous representation of femininity, arguing that it creates a social context in which women are expected to be sexy at all times whilst remaining ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’ in the eyes of the potential partners.

Levy (2005) contends that girls and young women feel pressured into conforming to the characteristics of a FCP, however, she fails to question whether their actions are in fact a true expression of their agency and sexuality. In reference to FCPs, Levy often describes a one-dimensional woman whose only way of expressing her personality is by “spinning around a pole”. I could almost taste her disapproval.

“Sex is one of the most interesting things we as human beings have to play with, and we’ve reduced it to polyester underpants and implants”

Levy (2005) argues that the rise of raunch culture has resulted in American women embracing a false model of sexuality. They do this by imitating those whose job it is to fake lust and ecstasy- porn stars. She believes that this threatens the liberation of female sexuality as opposed to being the epitome of it as some feminists suggest.

In a 2008 radio interview, Levy said that she “doesn’t buy into exhibitionism as a form of empowerment” and whilst I tend to mostly agree, I recognise that there are women out there who do feel empowered and I would like to have heard more about these women in the book.

books_bgI really enjoyed Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. I am not a big reader (yet) but I found the text really accessible. Being a teenager in the late 90s/early 2000s I was familiar with a lot of the media references Levy made, I remember when boob jobs blew up (no pun intended) and I understand where Levy is coming from when she talks about the bombardment of sexualised images coming out of American culture. I got through the book very quickly and would recommend it to anyone who would like to know more about debates surrounding contemporary feminism.

I will post the next book summary in a week or so, time permitting. It will focus on Natasha Walter’s Living Doll: The Return of Sexism.

Book Summary: Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique.

This short book summary will be the first of three which collectively focus on a mix of contemporary and classic feminist texts. I hope to provide people with a general overview of each book, the author and the social context in which the book was written.

Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique. Penguin, London.

femininemystique1Let me begin by expressing how much I enjoyed reading this book. It was given to me as a gift when I left my voluntary job and I began reading it a couple of weeks before Christmas . I read the majority of it whilst in work, sometimes before I started if I happened to get in early, but mostly on my breaktimes. I had heard so much about the book being great but not a lot about the actual content or main arguments made within the book, however, when I started to read it and place it within the social context of post-war America during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the magnetism of the book drew me in and I began to realise what others had spoke about in reference to The Feminine Mystique (1963). I suppose it was a kind of realisation that yes, most women are unhappy when placed in the mould of housewife and mother alone and yes, in their hearts they strive for more, but do they go out and get this ‘more’ which they long for? Friedan (1963) informs us that no they don’t, not really, and if they do, it most often stops short of the point of satisfaction.

Reading words which were written at a time when they were rarely spoken aloud, for me, gave the book a controversial edge. As an artefact belonging to the early phase of second wave feminism, Friedan’s (1963) work sets out to reveal and share details of ‘the problem that has no name’- the deliberate manipulation of women by advertising agencies, editorial boards, journalists, educators, Freudian psychoanalysts and others alike, to believe in a false belief system. This belief system tells women that they must fit the mould or have their femininity stripped of them, for to be a housewife and mother is the greatest achievement a woman can obtain and if she fails, she fails as a woman.

OB-VK647_1122fa_D_20121120131535Friedan (1963) argues that this false belief system keeps women trapped in a state of perpetual infancy wherein they are never allowed to grow and realise their own worth and true potential. As I read the book, I felt myself agreeing with a lot of the things she wrote about this. When women live in a society in which domescity is a synomyn for femininity, all other possibilities of womanhood are erased. Domesticity therefore acts as a mass distraction, keeping women from becoming full women- women who know their own femininity, enjoy their sexuality and who do not feel threatened by education, employment or stepping out of their mother’s shoes.

Friedan (1963) explains that during the post-war years, men returned from war and it was no longer necessary for women to be employed, seek education or do anything other than stay at home looking after the house and children. Women were told that they had a choice about what to do with their lives. If they really wanted to they could seek education or a career, but at a time when resisting conformity surmounted to failure as a woman, how could they choose freely?

Betty Friedan published the words that thousands of women had uttered to themselves whilst wading in discontent. Friedan (1963) showed the female population that they could do more than what was expected of them. They could break the mould into a thousand pieces if they were determined enough. Framing her words with excerpts from some of the 200 open ended questionnaires she conducted with her former college classmates, Friedan’s (1963) work was pioneering and daring. Many claim that it planted the seed of second wave feminism by highlighting the social and political stagnation experienced by women across America and having sparked the consciousness of women all over the world, many began to embrace feminism and social activism as a means to achieving equality.

It has now been 50 years since The Feminine Mystique (1963) was first published and the impact the book had at its time remains unparalled. In the decades preceding The Feminine Mystique (1963)the problem with no name’ has gradually drifted away from the realm of domesticity to focus on women’s appearance; their beauty or lack there of. The false belief system Friedan wrote about, to me, is very similar to Naomi Wolf’s description of ‘the beauty myth’. The Beauty Myth (1991) acts as an updated version, a contemporary analysis regarding the new mould women are expected to fit. Therefore this problem; this weight holding women down like an anchor tied around our increasingly thin waists, still exists, the mould has merely changed shape.

As one of the most influential leaders of second wave feminism, Betty Friedan helped to found the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Friedan continued to teach and write about women’s inequality, consistently voicing her concerns, until she died of congestive heart failure in 2006 at the age of 85.

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I will be posting the next book summary within a week so please check back or follow my blog if you are interested. It will focus on Ariel Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture.

Feminist Must-Reads Part 2

In December I set myself the goal of reading three popular feminist texts in one month. As someone who doesn’t read a lot and who reads quite slow at times, I thought the deadline suited me, however, I ended up surprising myself by finishing all three books quite quickly. The books I decided to read were: The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005) by Ariel Levy and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010) by Natasha Walter.
ImageHaving now read these popular feminist texts I plan to produce 3 short book reviews. I will upload the book reviews every Friday for the next 3 weeks so please check back or follow my blog if you are interested!