Category: PGR Conferences & Networking

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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Talking Bodies Conference University of Chester (26/03/13)

Conference Summary

378320_talking-bodies‘Talking Bodies’ was held at the University of Chester and organised by Emma Rees (and her small army of purple shirted helpers). I booked this conference late last year so by the time it came around I had been looking forward to it for ages and couldn’t wait to get there! Luckily I don’t live too far from Chester and it was only a 45 minute train journey and a quick taxi ride to the university campus. A friend was also attending so we got some tea and had a quick chat. I was really impressed by the small ‘market place’ the uni had set up where they were selling books, jewellery, bags, badges, ornaments and other random things. The university had a really friendly atmosphere and I got a sense that it was going to be a really beneficial experience for me.

Unfortunately I was only able to attend the first and last day of the event due to work commitments, therefore the highlights below are from those days only.

Karina Quinn, visiting from Australia, gave a fantastic presentation which was very poetic. Karina’s writing style is facto-critical and focuses very much on her writing about her own body. Her aim is to create a space within academia where others are able to also write in this incredibly creative way. This was a really interesting talk and as a speaker, Karina captivated her audience. There was focus on how her purpose is to ‘unhide’ as in the past she had felt a sense of over-disclosure whereas now she embraces the act of ‘writing her body’. I felt that this was really original and inspiring work.

Georgia Burdett’s paper focuses on the work of the Welsh author Niall Griffiths. In analysing the literary texts Sheepshagger(2002) and Runt(2008), Georgia found references and representations of learning disabled and autistic individuals/characters. Although stereotypical and derogatory language is often used in reference to these characters, Georgia argues that the author and these texts in particular, represent progress in terms of cultural representation within Welsh literature.

Louise Yates gave a really interesting talk about tall women arguing that when women are taller than average, there is a fine line between being thought of as a ‘vision’ and being though of as a ‘spectacle’ or a freak. Louise claims that throughout history and even now, women who are ‘too tall’ seem to seen as somewhat more masculine than smaller women. Throughout the talk links were made to hetero-normative scripts, non-normative bodies and ideas surrounding romance. For example, the need or desire for a woman to be shorter than the man she is dating (think Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman or Sophie Dahl and Jamie Cullum). This was a really interesting paper for me because I am interested in representations of the human body in popular media. This was also a topic I would assume that not many people think about, unless you are yourself particularly tall, therefore it was intriguing and insightful at the same time.

Melissa Trujillo’s presentation explored the concept of ‘body image’ and the need for a new type of rhetoric in relation to how we describe issues which surround the body. Arguing that body image is a gendered term which carries with it negative connotations, Melissa put forward the concept of ‘positive corporeal  agency’ which aims to inflect a sense of agency into academia’s representation of women and the debates surrounding how they might experience their bodies. Interested in body practices, Melissa’s research also involves a qualitative study on corporeal routines and women’s relationship with their bodies.

The plenary session for the first day involved speaker Ellie Land and her animated documentary ‘Centrefold’ which is about labiaplasty. This 9 minute animation is nothing short of AMAZING. It is understanding, compassionate and representative of women who do not have a voice in mainstream media. In her animation, Ellie gives a balanced, fair view of a subject which is often framed in  relation to ‘inferior’ issues surrounding vanity and the desire to look a certain way. The short film is available to watch here: http://ellieland.com/.

Miriam Walsh’s paper focuses on fairytales and the ‘importance of beauty to the construction of female identity’. Using Cinderella as a prime example, Miriam argues that young audiences learn from fairytales that exciting things only happen to those who are beautiful. Miriam also equates beauty with ‘goodness’ and ugliness with being bad or evil within traditional and modern fairytales.

Zahra Stardust gave a really insightful talk about her experience of being a sex worker. Zahra argues that academic discourse surrounding the sex industry and those who work within it is problematic as it neglects the opinions, attitudes and views of sex workers whilst having the potential to effect their working lives by impacting local authorities or policy initiatives. Zahra critiqued the recent ‘sexualisation’ debates and dismissed theories relating to ‘objectification’, ‘pornification’ and ‘raunch culture’ claiming that these interpretations are far from what actually happens in porn. Zahra argues that sex workers are aware of the sexism and stigma involved with the job and that they have “diverse relationships with beauty, femininity, performativity and stereotype”. Zahra challenges notions of passivity and overall, presented an impressive paper which was extremely welcome given the lack of sex workers speaking to academia about this issue.

Abigail Tazzyman spoke about her research into identity and body modifications. Taking a chronological or a historical look at the participants body modifications, from hair removal and make up to tattoos and piercings, Abigail argues that body modifications are a social phenomena “significantly determined by their social context”.

IMG_0809[1]Marjolein Van Bavel’s research was really interesting and extremely relevant to some of the topics I hope to cover within my thesis. Marjolein’s study involved qualitative interviews with ex-Playboy models (and models from other prestigious Dutch pornographic magazines) from the 1980s. With the aim of exploring aspects of empowerment, Marjolein sought to examine the relationship between popular discourse relating to ‘sexualisation’ and the individual discourse of the women who ‘sexualised themselves’ posing nude for men’s magazines. The participants of the study spoke about actively seeking to de-sexualise their poses, expressing agency when able to and preserving control in certain ways, for example, by having an input into how photoshoots would look or what poses and style would be used. The women did not feel incredibly disempowered through the work they did, although there were times when they did feel sexualised, exploited and a distinct lack of control. Marjolein argues that a new discourse is needed to address the historical shift in how women experience sex work and there needs to be a particular focus on discussing aspects of empowerment/disempowerment, agency/structure.

Reflecting on the conference, it was a fantastic experience which opened my eyes to a lot of topics relating to my research interests. Hearing from a variety of speakers, particularly those working within the sex industry, really opened my eyes to a range of different perspectives. This is the third conference I have attended and it was also the best. It was extremely well organised, the staff were welcoming and it was definitely value for money at £75. Overall, the event was a great success!

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’.

Attending Academic Conferences

A while back in a post entitled “Today was a good day” I provided a list of academic conferences relevant to my research subject. Last week I registered for my first conference which will take place on the 25th January at Cardiff University. The conference is called Young Sexualities and the programme shows that there will be two talks which focus specifically on themes relating to the ongoing sexualisation debate.

Cardiff University ‘Young Sexualities’ Conference

tb-poster3The conference cost is £10 which I think is excellent and my train fare totalled £35. So all in, travel and attendance comes to under £50. I think this is quite reasonable and hope that future conferences will cost a similar amount. However, I’m not sure how realistic that is as I am hoping to attend a conference in Chester university on the 9th March which I have just discovered is £75 to attend! It is a 3 day event and Naomi Wolf is the keynote speaker. If you are interested please see the link below for further details. I plan to register for this event as soon as I have got the money together.

Chester University ‘Talking Bodies’ Conference

So the motivational message attached to this post is… if you are thinking about attending academic conferences, don’t put it off or find excuses not to go, register your place and book the train/coach. You won’t regret it!

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Today was a good day

Today has been a good day, I finished some things I’ve been working on and I feel like I am finally ready to settle into the routine of part time postgraduate research. I think after graduating it can take a while to get back into the swing of things if you go on to study at postgraduate level. I know it has taken me longer than I imagined and after I originally planned to enrol in September, I am now waiting until January because I feel like I didn’t start off on the right foot.

So after quite a long time completing nothing but doing a lot of random research related things to keep busy, I now feel ready to get stuck in and I plan to set myself a few goals over the weekend.

To end my day of achievement (well maybe not a day of “achievement” but I did complete a job application, send a proposal to my supervisor, produce a student advocate lesson plan and upload this post!) I am going to try and find some conferences I can attend and maybe even send work into. Here are some links to conferences I have looked at so far:

Talking Bodies: Identity, Sexuality and Representation

Body Projects Conference

FWSA Conference

Young Sexualities Postgraduate Conference

The F Word in Contemporary Women’s Writing

Sexuality in Theory & Practice
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Female Interpretations of Sexual Content in the Music Videos of Popular Female Artists

Undergraduate Dissertation Introduction

Here is my undergraduate dissertation ‘Introduction’. It is a bit dodgy in areas but I hope that this will provide an example and help those who are undertaking research in a similar area.

Introduction

The debate surrounding the effects of sexual media has recently been reinvigorated with children and women’s charities, journalists and the current British and Australian governments, having all made attempts to address and tackle the sexual behaviours and attitudes expressed by female artists in their music videos and live performances. This renewed interest has mainly emerged due to the sexually provocative nature of current female artists such as Rihanna, whose notoriously raunchy performances frequently attract the attention of media critics, and Lady Gaga who has a reputation for wearing outrageous ensembles, often leaving very little to the imagination.

With a large majority of music being centred around relationships, romance and love, sex has always been a popular accompaniment to musical performance, lyrics and most recently, music videos. Early 20th century jazz and blues was recognised as exhibiting a certain level of sexual intensity with the gyrating crotch of Elvis, Little Richard and other rock and roll stars during the 1950s and 60s causing great controversy at the time (Arnett, 2002). Elvis was actually quoted in the 1970s as saying “Man, I was tame compared to what they do now. Are you kidding? I didn’t do anything but just jiggle” http://www.elvis.com. This quote emphasizes the percieved increase in the sexual nature of music from Elvis’ heyday in the 1950s through to the early 1970s.

During the 1980s and 1990s, sexual content had begun to increasingly permeate popular music (Roberts & Christenson, 1998) and can be seen and heard in the music lyrics and videos of female artists who enjoyed stardom at the time, most notabley Madonna, who in 1992 released the album Erotica along with a coffee table book entitled Sex which featured explicit photographs of the singer. Much tamer but still offering music fans scenes of a sexual nature, Britney Spears and Christina Aquilera have contributed to the array of provocative music videos with Christina’s Dirty video and Britney’s I’m a Slave for you consequently causing their own controversies. More recently during the 2000s and up to the present day, videos from artists such as the Pussycat Dolls, Shakira, Ciara, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Rihanna have all continued the trend (Jhally, 2007).

The majority of research focusing on sexual content of music videos can be divided into three categories: content analyses, effects research and audience interpretations. This dissertation falls into the third and least developed field of research by exploring female audience interpretations of sexual content in female music videos.

As a major source of information for young people and adolescents, the mass media is believed to play a crucial role in their sexual socialisation (Harris & Scott, 2002). The presence of sexual content in music video is so pervasive within popular music that it has now reached the point where it is highly predictable for sexual imagery to accompany the music videos of popular female artists, even when the lyrics do not match the imagery (Roberts & Christenson, 1998). For example, a recent music video by British pop artist Pixie Lott shows the singer in a variety of sexual poses despite the song having nothing to do with sex. This raises serious concerns regarding the effects sexual content may have on viewers, especially young people, who are a significant concern due to the amount of time they spend listening to music and watching music videos (Arnett, 2002).

Supporting the argument that sex is becoming an increasingly pervasive part of mass culture, this dissertation aims to fill a void within existing research whereby it fails to adequately address the interpretations, perceptions and attitudes of young women in relation to the sexual content of music videos.

The main aim of the research is to utilise the focus group technique in order to discover what young women think about music videos and their sexual content. Participants were selected through snowball sampling and are young women aged 18-25. Questions focus on the areas of body image, sexual objectification, self-objectification and sexualisation of young people. The aim is to discover how the participants interpret what they see, how it makes them feel about their body image, their relationships with men, sexual objectification and whether or not they think sexual music videos by female artists impact young girls in a detrimental way.