Conference Blog: Panel Session III, Friday 21 June

The Politics, Poetics, and Performativity of Feminism

Emily Spiers, ‘Fragmented Identity and Playful Performance in Contemporary Popfeminism and Fiction by Women: A Comparative Approach’

Popfeminism (feminism that utilises and is utilised by popular culture) has emerged as a way of feminists moving away from the victim-orientated politics often associated with the second wave. Spiers connects the essayistic popfeminist writings in relation to recent fictional manifestations by women to show how the female figures in these novels are depicted as transgressing conventional gender roles. Comparisons between fiction and non-fiction as well as British and German contexts provide a varied comparative approach to the topic. Discussing texts including Full Frontal Feminism, The Noughtie Girls Guide to Feminism and Das F-Wort the paper considers a range of non-fiction and how it contributes to ideas of agency and identity performance. Indeed, the discourse of popfeminism tends to foreground ideas of autonomy and agency for women and the word ‘choice’ emerges as a central discourse in relation to notions of women’s sexuality and personhood.

 Dr Gwen Saunders, “Whatever in love means…”. Love and Marriage in Welsh Women’s Poetry of the Early Modern Period’

Inspired by a TV broadcast of Prince Charles and Diana’s engagement, when Charles says “Whatever ‘in love’ means” Saunders proceeds to explore the work of Welsh poet Alis daughter of Gruffudd (born c. 1520) who is firmly grounded in the bardic tradition. Despite talking about literature produced century’s past, a lively current runs throughout the paper which is particularly apparent in relation to the synergies drawn across time: the pre-nup is far from a modern development but something that occurred during the 16th Century – who knew! Similarly, the poetry is located firmly within a particularly social and cultural context and thus sheds light both on the original context but also draws comparisons across time. Reading the poetry in both Welsh and English Saunders gives a wonderful space to the language of poetry rather than merely discussing the issues and debates it produces. The figure of the woman poet in the 16th Century is completely free to write about issues that matter to her and women’s weakness becomes a voice of protest. As such, Saunders argues Alis protests against how society dictates how women should behaviour and against the phallocentric order of poetry.

 Dr Claire O’Callaghan, ‘The Lady Doth Protest: Tattoos and Corporeal Feminist Protest in Sarah Hall’s The Electric Michaelangelo

Writing on the body becomes a literal manifestation of feminist protest in the novel The Electric Michaelangelo by Sarah Hall and connects with feminist discourses forwarded by feminists such as Naomi Wolf about the beauty and control of women’s bodies in a patriarchal society. Opening the paper with the image of a tattoo eye on the PowerPoint, this image is one that is used in the novel and that comes to symbolise the treatment of women’s bodies. However, it also marks the start of Hall’s protest against the objectification of the female body. Based around the idea of the ‘Beauty Myth’ as theorised by Wolf, the paper is contextualised upon the notion of how the male gaze and control permeates in, around and through the female body. Written and told by a man, O’Callaghan classes the text as a male feminist bildungsroman as (in general terms) it is all about what the man learns about feminism. To help visualise the content the novel propagates, images of twentieth century women covered in tattoos are shown to contextualise what this body modification looks like as a symbolic rebellion by women. Despite the radical potential of this body modification, it is crucial to remember the limitations of such resistance and this is something Hall does not forget. The paper also goes on to discuss Amy Winehouse and how the British media’s response to her body typifies the vilification of women’s non-normative beauty as a cultural representation akin to Hall’s literary one.

Critical Ontologies: Asking ‘New’ Feminist Questions

Mia Eriksson (University of Gothenburg, Sweden). “’Wronged White Men:’ What kind of Conversation can or should we there be between Feminism and anti-Feminism?”

 This talks examines the trope of the “wronged white man” and the anti-feminist backlash in Sweden. Although some argue that feminism “has gone too far”, there is evidence that men still dominate the country despite Sweden’s self-image as an equal society. Mia Eriksson asks how feminists approach the idea of the oppressed man. As the elevation of nordic values and people is inscribed in a nationalistic discourse based on morality, multiculturalism is seen by anti-feminists as damaging for the nation. This shift from politics to morality is visible when these men refuse to question white male privilege. Despite the egalitarian myth at home and abroad, none of the Scandinavian countries is actually equal, and discrimination against non-white Swedish people, for instance, is rife. Mia Eriksson cites the “wronged white man” as a figure of laughter for many feminists as they claim feminism has destroyed the sacrosanct heterosexual family. She also proposes the “wronged white man” as a figuration embedded in the socio-political context. “Wronged” evokes hurt and “white men” evokes power, which poses a contradiction and constitutes a challenge to feminists’ position by presenting men as oppressed. She quotes Sara Ahmed’s remark that a common positioning of men as working-class is used to reflect a good image of the nation to itself. The confrontation between feminists and anti-feminists is often framed in terms of good versus evil, as the anti-feminists try to reclaim the power they believe to deserve by virtue of being white men and try to occupy what they assumer to be the “correct” position of white masculinity. However, and although it is anti-racist, Mia Eriksson argues that nordic feminist movements are still inscribed within nationalistic discourses about the wrong and right ways to be Swedish.

 Seetha Menon (University of Essex). “Domestic Violence on Neonatal and Child Mortality in India.”

 This is an empirical paper asking the question of the possible causal relationship between violence against women and child mortality in India. The country’s commitment to reducing child mortality by 2015 means that this study could have a political impact on policy. The results of various surveys on domestic violence in India yield greatly varying numbers and make it difficult to generalise. Seetha Menon uses several studies looking at women with children and their experience of domestic violence, as well as the difference between child mortality in North India and South India, regions with different levels of economic empowerment for women. She posits a strong causal link between domestic violence and child mortality but warns the audience that there is no evidence as to which causes which and that we should be wary of making assumptions. Seetha Menon also attempts to establish this link through an analysis of the practice of dowry, which is incidentally a major cause of female infanticide, the family fearing to be unable to pay the high price. She studies the evolution of the price of gold from an economist’s point of view in relation to the practice of dowry as a mechanism in domestic violence. She finds that women with higher financial independence who are able to control their dowry (in gold or jewellery) run less risk of becoming victims of domestic violence. The price of gold can thus be used to map and predict child mortality. The Demographic Health Survey (2005) looked at over 124.000 women in India and interviewed over 83.000 women about domestic violence. A standardised questionnaire was used to assess the frequency of domestic violence and found that 64 percent experienced no violence at all and 6 percent experienced all forms of violence. The findings from this economics study show that increased domestic violence leads to higher levels of child mortality. Although the law prohibiting domestic violence in India exists, it is not put in practice, and Seetha Menon argues in this talk that changing this fact would also reduce child mortality.

 Dr. Line Nyhagen Predelli (Loughborough University). “Recognition Struggles in Contemporary Women’s Movement: Towards More Inclusive Citizenship Practices.”

 The focus of this paper is the way majority women’s movements tend to silence minority women. A clear example of this is the fact that Dr. Line Nyhagen Predelli’s first grant application for this research project was refused on the grounds that Black feminism in Norway simply does not exist! She posits an interesting contrast between Norway, Spain, and the UK, which are very different countries in terms of social systems, commitments to equality, and patterns of migration. She focuses on citizenship as lived practice, including identity, and the relationships between ethnic minority women and majority women’s movements but also with the state. Dr. Line Nyhagen Predelli then mentions Nancy Fraser who argues that economic and cultural injustices are intertwined but says that it is ethnic minorities’ responsibility to make active claims for redistribution. In view of such statements, there is an urgent need for self-reflexive engagement with majority privilege and minority disadvantage. But this also means looking at the effect of the critique of feminism as ethnocentric as well the way majority women’s movements have reacted to the challenge of ethnic minority women. Dr. Line Nyhagen Predelli’s findings are consistent in all three countries: a lack of inclusiveness and a lack of interest in racism on majority women’s agendas, as feminist movements keep privileging gender as lens of inequality. Concerns are emerging about voice, representation, and legitimacy, as well as the misrecognition of existing organisations where minority women are already mobilised outside of feminist movements. She concludes by promoting an intersectional analysis including reflecting on privilege and favouring more inclusive citizenship practices.

  The Feminist Killjoy in the Feminist Movement

Terese Jonsson ‘Looking for Anti- Racism in Narratives of Britsh Feminism

 This paper looked at the way in which anti racism has been overlooked within the British feminist movement. Jonsson suggested that white feminists have marginalized and appropriated women of colour, both in activism and social media. Using examples from Spare Rib, Amos and Parmar (1984) and from contemporary blogs, the paper looked at the discourse that was often presented within mainstream feminism around anti- racism. The paper suggested that often racism is not discussed because of white women’s fear of being told that they have said something racist. Jonsson looked at the F Word book which strongly reiterated its debt to the women’s liberation movement but made little reference to anti racism within feminism. Furthermore, the paper suggested that when racism was mentioned it was within the context of pastness, so that it is not portrayed as being an issue in the present day.  The paper pointed to the way that discussion about race is often shut down and not properly discussed. Finally, the paper looked at the way that Black feminism is underrepresented in academia 

Gwyneth Lonergan Non- Performativity of Reading Audre Lorde: White Feminists and the Appropriation of Radical Women of Colour

 Using autoethnography, this paper discussed the way in which the referencing of Radical Women of Colour in Britain can be seen as an exercise in non-performativity. Lonergan suggests that the typical woman is constructed as white and that experiences of BME women are often ignored. Furthermore, she suggests that racism and sexism are often treat as separate issues whilst women of colour are often presented simplistically as victims of their cultures. Lonergan suggested that for mainstream white feminists there is a superficial appreciated of Radical Women of Colour, however their ideas are often changed so that they are radical in form and liberal in context.  The paper suggested that the use of the phrase ‘Reproductive Justice’ by mainstream feminists is indicative of this. Whilst the term was invented by Radical Women of Colour in order to move away from  the ubiquity of ‘pro choice’ which they argued ignored that the decision to have a child  needs to be seen within a wider social context  and not just be about access to abortion, this has been simplified by mainstream feminists to be synonymous with pro choice. The paper argued that the referencing of  American Radical Women of Colour by British white feminists, allowed them to distance themselves from the issues geographically, whilst the focus on second wave Radical Women of Colour further created a distance. The referencing of Radical Women of Colour allows for the non-performativity of anti- racism, so that white feminists can be seen to be anti-racist without doing any activism or changing how they think.

Dr Humaira Saeed ‘ Saving Brown Women: Transnationalism and the Third Wave’

 This paper discussed the actions of Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN in relation to Tunisian feminist Amina Sboui. Sboui was arrested by Tunisian police in May 2013, and in response to her arrest FEMEN, whose main form of activism is public nudity have carried out a number of protests in response. These include a topless ‘jihad’ photo as well as a topless ‘salat’ (prayer). The paper highlighted the Islamaphobia of FEMEN, who are now based in France as an example of internationalism rather than transnationalism. Saeed suggested that FEMEN’s actions ignore the differences between locations that affect how an action is perceived. For example, whilst in France the veil is perceived as a sign of oppression, in French colonised Algeria, the veil was seen as a protest against colonialism. The paper suggested that there is a danger that, in celebrating universality amongst women, important cultural differences are ignored. Furthermore, in the case of Sboui, she has become a cipher for all Tunisian women, whilst other kind of feminists who do not fit FEMEN’s narrative such as the Muslimah feminists and the rich history of muslim feminist is ignored. Finally, Saeed, drawing on the work of Spivak, suggested that Sboui’s own voice is not being heard as she becomes a representative for Tunisian women for the west  and therefore loses her subjectivity.




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