A Brief History of the Speculum, at Femme Vision

Cross-posted from: Femme Vision
Originally published: 23.03.17

L0035255 Speculum auris, made by John Weiss, 1831

The above image, dating from 1831, is a diagram of a vaginal speculum designed and manufactured by John Weiss, a well-known maker of surgical instruments in London in the 18th and 19th centuries. The company in fact still operates to this day. Intended for direct vision of the cervix via the vagina, the first vaginal specula were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.[1] However, the invention of the ‘modern’ speculum that is familiar to us today is largely credited to the American James Marion Sims, a well-known gynaecologist in the 19th century.


Read more A Brief History of the Speculum, at Femme Vision

The Return of Idealism and the erasure of Black Feminist Theory, via @andrews_cath

Counterpoint magazine published an opinion piece today entitled “The return of idealism: identity and the politics of oppression” written by Elaine Graham-Leigh. It’s a (very) long explanation of an argument I have seen in various forms within current feminist debate about the fallacies of identity politics. As the title of the piece suggests, the crux of her argument is that identity politics is a product of postmodern theory and fundamentally opposed to a materialist socialist analysis of the politics of oppression. Thus she says:

It follows therefore [for identity politics] that the important identity is not the one to which you belong by virtue of your descent or your biology, but the one with which you identify. In this view, women, for example, are not oppressed because of any relation to their female sex, but because and to the extent that they identify as women and signify this through their performance of femininity. The reality of the sex of their bodies is as unimportant as all material reality. It therefore follows that the identification as a woman, which is important, does not have to proceed from having a female body, which is not. The identity has become unmoored from the physical reality.

As numerous white feminist thinkers have noted before her, the emphasis on identity rather than shared biological circumstances can make activism harder [1]. The common thread running through her lament and those of a similar nature is: why can’t all women pull together to overcome common oppression? Why must what separates us -identity in this case- undermine collective action?

And here we come to the reason why I am writing this reply to Graham-Leigh. Because, her essay provides us -unconsciously or not- the answer to this question.

In her historical analysis of the origins of socialist feminism and identity politics, Graham Leigh fails to include the contribution of black feminist thought on these subjects, and when she does she does not evidence the same breadth of knowledge she shows in the rest of her essay. This is important because black feminist thought is precisely the bridge which links (this is a deliberate analogy follow this link and read the book it lead to) the contemporary debate between socialist and postmodern feminists she is discussing [2].

Let me explain: in her essay, Graham- Leigh explicitly argues that “intersectional feminism” or “intersectionality” is a product of identity politics. She quotes from the foundational work on this subject by Black legal feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw [3] and says:

Crenshaw’s argument was that black women were minimised in feminist campaigns which saw white women’s experiences as the default, and by Black liberation struggles which focused on men. As she said, ‘discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens at an intersection, it can be caused by cars travelling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a black woman is harmed because she is at the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination.’ Black women could experience discrimination as women, as black people, and sometimes specifically as black women, ‘not the sum of race and sex discrimination, but as black women.’

This is an important insight, but it does not amount to an entire systemic understanding of oppression [4]. To be fair to Crenshaw, it was not her intention to provide one. It is perhaps an indication of the difficulties of understanding oppression through identity politics that intersectionality theory is left to do all the heavy lifting here. The term intersectionality is commonplace in online discussions of oppression, as for example in the popular phrase ‘my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit’. In its least nuanced form, however, it can become little more than a ranking system, ordering people according to how many different axes of oppression they can claim.

This dismissal of intersectionality betrays Graham-Leigh’s lack of knowledge not only of the origins of this theory, but also, its historical development from the moment from which this text was published (1989) and the present [5]. Crenshaw is indeed the woman who coined the term “intersectionality”, but the analysis she proposes has been present in black feminist thinking for most of the twentieth-century as Angela Davis shows quite clearly in Women, Race and Class (1981).

Drawing on this history, during the eighties, black and “third-world” feminist scholars were instrumental in analysing the oppression of women within their local, cultural, religious and class circumstances using the Marxist tools of analysis Graham-Leigh assumes were only employed by (white) socialist feminists. Particularly, Patricia Hill Collins and Chandra Mohanty, to name just two, have been grappling with the question of how to organise collective action against oppression between women who despite sharing a common biology reality, resolutely do not face the same oppressions when the material circumstances of their lives are examined [6]. Indeed, Patricia Hill Collins’s theory of a “matrix of domination” in which race, class, and gender are understood as “interlocking systems of oppression” is grounded precisely on the materialist analysis Graham-Leigh champions. For example:

Adhering to a both/and conceptual stance does not mean that race, class, and gender oppression are interchangeable. For example, whereas race, class, and gender oppression operate on the social structural level of institutions, gender oppression seems better able to annex the basic power of the erotic and intrude in personal relationships via family dynamics and within individual consciousness. This may be because racial oppression has fostered historically concrete communities among African-Americans and other racial/ethnic groups. These communities have stimulated cultures of resistance. While these communities segregate Blacks from whites, they simultaneously provide counter-institutional buffers that subordinate groups such as African-Americans use to resist the ideas and institutions of dominant groups. Social class may be similarly structured. Traditionally conceptualized as a relationship of individual employees to their employers, social class might be better viewed as a relationship of communities to capitalist political economies. Moreover, significant overlap exists between racial and social class oppression when viewing them through the collective lens of family and community. Existing community structures provide a primary line of resistance against racial and class oppression. But because gender cross-cuts these structures, it finds fewer comparable institutional bases to foster resistance. [7]

Although, Black (and postcolonial) feminist thought developed what is now understood as “intersectionality” squarely within the Marxist tradition, this does not mean that all feminism which proports to be “intersectional” is necessarily materialist. There is -as Leigh Graham shows- a liberal version of this theory which does indeed replace structural materialist analysis for “personal identity” and “personal experience of oppression” as their defining factors. But as Nancy Fraser notes, the co-option and transformation of materialist analysis by (neo)liberal feminists has been a feature of third wave feminism and it is no surprise, therefore, that it continues today [8].

So, to return to the original question. Why can’t all women pull together to overcome common oppression? Why must what separates us -identity in this case- undermine collective action? I hope the answer is now clear. While the centrality of black and brown feminist thought is ignored, or misrepresented in white women’s analysis, there can be no real hope of pan-women solidarity. If we appropriate this work as our own, while simultaneously implying that this very thought is limited and the cause of conflict between us, we can find no common ground at all.

 

 

[1] For example, Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory,” Signs. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, (1988) 13: 3, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3174166

[2] Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, 2. ed., New York, NY: Kitchen Table, 1983.

[3] Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989) no. 1, http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8

[4] My italics.

[5] See, Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality, Polity Press, 2016.

[6] Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “‘Under Western Eyes’ Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28: 2 (2002): https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/342914

[7] Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Unwin Hyman, 1990, pp. 221–238, http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/252.html

[8] Nancy Fraser, “Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History,” New Left Review, 56 (mar.-Aprl. 2009), https://newleftreview.org/II/56/nancy-fraser-feminism-capitalism-and-the-cunning-of-history

 

 

Cath Andrews is a historian of Mexican politics. She’s blogs at  Hiding Under the Bed is not the Answer  and who writes for e-feminist and Toda historia es contemporánea. She tweets at @andrews_cath

Chroicles of Iris Bean-The Convent

Cross-posted from: The Daly Woolf
Originally published: 30.07.17

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After three professional careers, two advanced degrees,one ex-husband, four carefully chosen lovers, participation in eleven national and international astrological anarchological workshops, a random audit by the IRS which gifted Iris the  freedom from burdensome possession of furniture and property, and three lengthy stays at a dude ranch, a cloistered convent, and remote yoga ashram, Iris Bean was now, finally, calling herself a writer.

Iris always knew in her bones that she was a writer, an artist, a true misfit; but it wasn’t an easy identity to embrace coming from Iowa; from a tenacious family of railroaders, stenographers, cooks, bankers, seamstresses, boozers, and stock car drivers.  Encouraged to be a mail carrier or a dental hygienist or a cook or nothing at all, Iris took refuge from the family legacy when she turned 18 and went to live at a convent with Benedictine nuns in Mission, Kansas. 
Read more Chroicles of Iris Bean-The Convent

THE HISTORY OF COMPUTING IS MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER, by @histoftech

Cross-posted from: White Heat
Originally published: 11.08.17

I recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post using history to debunk the infamous “Google Memo” and its contention that women are somehow less innately suited to technical pursuits. Truth is, for a long time women were predominant in the field of computing because technical work wasn’t seen as important. Their disappearance has everything to do with structural discrimination and little to do with “innate” differences.

I was also very glad to get a few mentions in The Guardian. See this (delightfully acerbic) article about memogate in general, and this one that’s specifically about the history of computing’s role in helping us better understand power and (the lack of) diversity in our technological landscape in the present.


Read more THE HISTORY OF COMPUTING IS MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER, by @histoftech

The stories that get left out

Cross-posted from: Adventures in Biography
Originally published: 04.12.17

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 10.02.34What should biographers do with all the wonderful stories – or snippets – they discover along the way but can’t include in their books?

Many biographers do, of course, include them. But readers often don’t like it – for example wonderful reviewer Whispering Gums recently discussed a biography she enjoyed, but felt contained too much extraneous detail. And, I’ll confess, as a reader I feel the same way. I just want to read about the biographical subject, please.

But as a writer? Of course I want to include all the details! Because I’m assuming the reader is every bit as obsessed by the subject as I am – which is, tragically but patently, untrue. All those extra details, every little meandering away from the main subject, are crucial to the writer’s understanding but frankly unnecessary to the reader’s.


Read more The stories that get left out

Kate Millett: In Memoriam

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Andrea Dworkin on Kate Millett: Sexual Politics in the New Statesman 

The world was sleeping and Kate Millett woke it up. Betty Friedan had written about the problem that had no name. Kate Millett named it, illustrated it, exposed it, analysed it. In 1970 Kate Millett published the book Sexual Politics. The words were new. What was “sexual politics”? The concept was new. Millett meant to “prove that sex is a status category with political implications”. She pointed to male dominance in sex, including intercourse. In challenging the status quo, she maintained: “However muted its present appearance may be, sexual domination obtains nevertheless as perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power.”

Thirty-three years later, it is hard to remember or envision the convulsive shock of this new idea. Male-over-female had been seen as a physical inevitability not unlike gravity. Nothing that had to do with sex was open to questions of power, dominance or hierarchy. Social sex roles originated in and were determined by biology or a supernatural divinity. The male was the figure of action, even heroism. He alone was made in God’s image. He ruled in religion, marriage and politics as conventionally understood. His sovereign place as head of the family was unchallenged. Millett called this arrangement “patriarchy”, which she described as “male shall dominate female, elder male shall dominate younger”. …

De Beauvoir, Lessing—now Kate Millett, by Marcia Seligson

… Kate Millett’s book on “sexual politics” is thus a rare achievement. Its measure of detachment is earned by learning, reason and love, its measure of involvement is frankly set out. It is a piece of passionate think ing on a life‐and‐death aspect of our public and private lives.

We are plunged in at the deep end, in a not unappreciative commentary on a scene of sex in and just out of the bath, from Henry Miller’s “Sexus,” rapidly followed by a more complexly brutal passage from Mailer’s “An American Dream.” Per missive fiction proffers rich mate rials. The pornographic element now so assimilated by imaginative litera ture as to confound the legal distinctions of censorship has ex posed far more than beds and bodies. Its freedom shows truths and fan tasies about sex hitherto disguised. Moreover, the act of sexual descrip tion is itself aggressive, indulgent, attractive, repulsive. These scenes are crucial. The power‐politics of patriarchal society creates the com placent zest of Miller’s hero as he subdues his women, and creates too the desperate arrogance of Mailer’s Rojack. …

What Kate did, by Maggie Doherty at The New Republic

… Not many dissertations begin with a close reading of a scene of anal rape. But Millett’s was no typical dissertation. Though filing for a doctorate in English, she ranged widely over the disciplines. Two long sections on the history of women’s liberation and of sex-based oppression—“The Sexual Revolution” and “The Counterrevolution”—were flanked by studies of what Millett calls the “literary reflection” of patriarchy. Drawing on Weber, Engels, and Arendt, among others, Millett aimed to show how the relationship between the sexes was one of “dominance and subordinance.” This power relationship was institutionalized, she argued; it was a form of “interior colonization,” a kind of oppression “sturdier than any form of segregation, and more rigorous than class stratification.” Children were socialized to their roles in this “caste system,” thus consenting to a system of inequality long before they understood their world in such terms. “However muted its appearance may be,” Millett wrote, “sexual dominion obtains nevertheless as perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power.”   …

“Sexual Politics” and the Feminist Work That Remains Undone at the New Yorker

In the fall of 2014 Time magazine published a list of words that, it proposed, should be banned—a click-bait compilation of terms and phrases that had become so buzzy and catchy that they had proliferated into cringe-inducing overuse. Among them were “bae,” a term of endearment; “disrupt,” a Silicon Valley cliché; “literally,” when used to mean “figuratively”; and “feminist.” About this last the magazine asked, “When did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.” …

Forty-four years earlier, Time magazine had made a different kind of statement about feminism, devoting a cover story to Kate Millett and “Sexual Politics,_”__ as a means of addressing the burgeoning movement at large.__ _Millett was described as “the Mao Tse-tung of Women’s Liberation,” hailed as the theorist whose analysis served both as cultural diagnosis and polemical manifesto. These were times in which, as the magazine characterized it, “the din is in earnest, echoing from the streets where pickets gather, the bars where women once were barred, and even connubial beds, where ideology can intrude at the unconscious drop of a male chauvinist epithet.” Much of _Time’_s tone was lightly mocking of the movement—and now seems drenched in the unconscious sexism it sought to define—which makes its treatment of Millett’s work strike a present-day reader as surprisingly respectful. “There is no questioning the impact of her argument,” the magazine notes, while giving an accessible summary of “the patriarchy,” as more densely characterized by Millett in her book: “Women are helpless . . . because men control the basic mechanisms of society.” …

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Awesome Women Who Disguised Themselves as Men to Follow their Dreams, by @MogPlus at @JumpMag

Cross-posted from: Jump Mag

Throughout history girls and women have been told, ‘You can’t do that! You are a girl!’ Luckily, this attitude is becoming less common in many countries and cultures, but what did women do in the past? If they wanted to be a doctor, a musician, a sportsperson or even a soldier?

Most women put aside their dreams or practised other activities that were deemed appropriate for women. Some women protested, like the suffragettes who demanded to be allowed to vote. And a small number of women went much further. Today we are taking a look at the women who disguised themselves as men in order to follow their dreams.


Read more Awesome Women Who Disguised Themselves as Men to Follow their Dreams, by @MogPlus at @JumpMag

Colonialism and Housewifization – Patriarchy and Capitalism at Mairi Voice

Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 19.03.17

Maria Mies:   Patriarchy and the Accumulation on a World Scale

This book provides a most important analysis of the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism. Maria Mies’ thesis is that patriarchy is at the core of capitalism, and in fact, capitalism would not have had its success in its accumulation of capital without patriarchal ideals and practices.

She builds on Federici’s analysis of the witch hunts, which were instrumental in the early developments of capitalism and argues, convincingly and in-depth, that the exploitation and oppression of women allowed for its successful domination of the world.  
Read more Colonialism and Housewifization – Patriarchy and Capitalism at Mairi Voice

Elizabeth Macarthur died today at Adventures in Biography

Cross-posted from: Adventures in Biography
Originally published: 29.01.17

Elizabeth Macarthur in old age. Source: http://blogs.hht.net.au/cook/happy-birthday-elizabeth-macarthur/

Not actually today, obviously.

Elizabeth Macarthur the woman died almost 167 years ago, on 9 February 1850. She was eighty-three years old.

But today I wrote the paragraph in which Elizabeth dies, the final paragraph of the book really, and I felt strangely sad.

It’s been my job to make her come to life on the page and I’ve been working to do so for more years than I care to admit. Yet there she was, having a stroke and quietly dying at Watson’s Bay in the company of Emmeline, her youngest daughter and Dr Anderson, a long-time family friend. It was sad and I hope I can make my readers feel that same soft pang.

The other part of my sadness, though, was less easy to articulate.

For months I’ve been looking forward to reaching this point: to be able to write “and then she died. The End.” Which is not what I actually wrote, of course, but you see my point. It is The End. The end of the research (almost), the end of the first draft, the end of laying down the facts of Elizabeth’s long and interesting life.  Did you know that Ludwig Leichhardt called in to Elizabeth Farm for a visit? That Charles Darwin, when he visited Sydney as a young man, dined with Elizabeth’s nephew and his family? That Matthew Flinders was a personal friend? …

 

You can read the full text here.

 

Adventures in Biography : I have a young family and a demanding day job but in my spare time (!) I’m working on a biography of one of Australia’s first white colonists: Elizabeth MacArthur. So far in the course of working on the manuscript I’ve met some wonderful people and travelled to some amazing places. I thought it was about time to share the wonder and my amazement.

Dykes, old maids and the summer of 66

Cross-posted from: Language - A Feminist Guide
Originally published: 14.08.16

This summer, British television has been reliving the glory days of 1966, when London was swinging and England’s footballers won the World Cup. My own memories of the year are rather less glorious. 1966 was the year when I turned eight; it was also the year when I first heard the word ‘dyke’.

It happened when I was eavesdropping on a conversation between my parents (a bad habit I developed at an early age). My father used the phrase ‘those dykes’ in a passing reference to two women who lived in the posher part of the village. I knew who he meant: they weren’t part of my parents’ social circle, but the village was the sort of place where everyone knew everyone by sight. But I had no idea why he called them ‘dykes’. When I asked my mother later, she said: ‘he just meant they’re old maids: they live together because they never got married’. 
Read more Dykes, old maids and the summer of 66

Why I love Philippa Gregory by @sianushka

Originally published: 08.02.11
Philippa Gregory and her strong, doomed womenI have a secret which is about to be revealed. Despite my bookshelf being crammed with Blake, Woolf, Eliot and Dostoyevsky, I absolutely love romantic historical fiction. The fatter the book and the glossier the cover the better. And most of all I love my recently discovered Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels.

Gregory is first and foremost a really good writer. She has a deft use of language and a density of description that means she fully recreates the world of the Tudor courts she writes about, the smells, the colours, the landscapes, the houses and the costumes. Reading her novels, she puts you right there, timid behind the throne, absorbing the action. Secondly, she has a brilliant way with characterisation, particularly in my mind of her female characters. They leap out of the page, alive and strong and passionate, often angry and often sensual. They are full characters who invite your love, hate, distaste and admiration. And thirdly, her books are well researched, from the details of the colour of the gown Mary Boleyn wore at a gala, to the complex hatreds and schemings of Jane Boleyn and Thomas Howard. …

You can read the full text here.

Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’ by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Books
Originally published: 16.01.17

The paper I recently gave at the Gender and Medieval Studies conference in Canterbury was titled – after much thought – ‘Walled Desire and Lesbian Anxiety in Chaucer’s “Legend of Thisbe”‘. It should be out in The Chaucer Review before too long, but for the moment, I want to think about that second term: ‘lesbian anxiety,’ which has proved to be a topical one in much wider context that I could have anticipated when I responded to the Call For Papers.

My work is, obviously, mostly about medieval England, centuries before anyone (still less a mainstream writer such as Chaucer) thought to fling around a term like ‘lesbian’ with the cheerful abandon of a BBC blurb for a Sarah Waters adaptation.

The category of women I’m looking at are difficult to recognize. They are fictional women in mainstream literature, and therefore we don’t see them engaging in actual same-sex sex. They aren’t, on the whole, gender nonconforming in overt ways – like, for example, the cross-dressing heroines of earlier French romances, who frequently end up in flirtations with, or even in bed with, women – and, even if they were, gender nonconformity isn’t a particularly good litmus text of medieval female preferences for same-sex desire anyway. There’s a strong tradition, as Karma Lochrie has shown, of medieval onlookers interpreting ‘masculine’ behaviours and activities in women the result of imbalanced humours, easily found in women such as the cheerfully cougarish Wife of Bath. And after all, what we recognize as ‘female masculinity’ is heavily socially conditioned in the first place. So, how do I identify – and write about – women whose same-sex desire is revealed through suggestions and innuendos that are anything but ‘queer,’ either in the popular sense of uniting same-sex desire with gender nonconformity, or in the academic sense of being boldly subversive and disruptive? It’s hard, and my recent conference paper succeeded (I think!) in demonstrating that there’s a difficulty, without giving me a concrete answer to the problem. 
Read more Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’ by @LucyAllenFWR

Hedy Lamarr – Military Contractor, Inventor of Wifi, Hollywood Bombshell 1913-2000

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 27.05.13

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Before the age of 20 Austrian Hedy Lamarr had left school, become a famous actress, married a Nazi arms manufacturer and become the first actress to simulate an orgasm on screen. Ten years later she defected to the side of allies where she invented and sold a communication technology to the US Navy that is still used by the entire US military to this day as well as in Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth and almost every single modern communication device.
Read more Hedy Lamarr – Military Contractor, Inventor of Wifi, Hollywood Bombshell 1913-2000

Angel of Harlem- Kuwana Haulsey

Cross-posted from: Les Reveries de Rowena
Originally published: 12.11.16

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“Sometimes Harlem would just do that, you understand. It would open up and reveal itself in a rigorous display of scents, various and commanding, floating its sounds around and above you, where they swirled generously, like autumn colours. In  a while, you couldn’t tell what was what, really, or where the sensations came from.”- Kuwana Haulsey, Angel of Harlem

This is one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve ever read. Inspired by true events, it’s the story of Dr. May Edward Chinn, the first black woman physician in Harlem (in the 1920s). While reading the story, it’s natural to be amazed by how tenacious people can be, especially marginalized women.  Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about hearing about the first person to do something, to gain some sort of achievement. Even now there are always firsts but it’s not until I read this book that I thought more deeply about what being the first black female doctor in Harlem entailed. Not only is she black, she’s also a woman, so the question that entered my mind was this: How do marginalized people, women in particular, continue on despite society telling them from all angles that they are not supposed to be there?

 


Read more Angel of Harlem- Kuwana Haulsey

A brief history of ‘gender’ by @wordspinster

Cross-posted from: Language: a feminist guide
Originally published: 15.12.16

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In New York City in 1999, I heard a talk in which Riki Anne Wilchins (self-styled ‘transexual menace’, and described in the Gender Variance Who’s Who as ‘one of the iconic transgender persons of the 1990s’) declared that feminists had no theory of gender. I thought: ‘what is she talking about? Surely feminists invented the concept of gender!’

Fast forward ten years to 2009, when I went to a bookfair in Edinburgh to speak about The Trouble & Strife Reader, a collection of writing from a feminist magazine I’d been involved with since the 1980s. Afterwards, two young women came up to chat. Interesting book, they said, but why is there nothing in it about gender?

From my perspective the book was all about gender—by which I meant, to use Gayle Rubin’s 1975 formulation, ‘the socially-imposed division of the sexes’. Feminists of my generation understood gender as part of the apparatus of patriarchy: a social system, built on the biological foundation of human sexual dimorphism, which allocated different roles, rights and responsibilities to male and female humans. But by 2009 I knew this was no longer what ‘gender’ meant to everyone. To the young women at the bookfair, ‘gender’ meant a form of identity, located in and asserted by individuals rather than imposed on them from outside. It wasn’t just distinct from sex, it had no necessary connection to sex. And it wasn’t a binary division: there were many genders, not just two.
Read more A brief history of ‘gender’ by @wordspinster

Whose story is it anyway? by @strifejournal

Cross-posted from: Trouble & Strife
Originally published: 09.08.16

The stewardship of feminism’s collective memory raises all kinds of ethical questions. Can our approach be based on trust alone?  Frankie Green shares some thoughts on feminism, archiving and accountability.

 

No need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still the colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk (bell hooksYearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics).

The context in which bell hooks writes is very different from mine. Yet her words resonate strongly with me, illuminating some questions I want to explore here.

Archiving the history of the WLM is well-established, as we who experienced that era believe it crucial to ensure that our movement is not lost to history. The importance of taking this task seriously has been elucidated by Jalna Hanmer, and many have worked tirelessly on collecting and cataloguing information, making it available to new generations of activists, students and historians. Our collections provide insights into the aims, achievements and processes of the movement and show how it was sustained at grassroots level by thousands of women – many of whom did not become well-known, since they never attracted the attention of the mainstream media.
Read more Whose story is it anyway? by @strifejournal

Remembering Carrie Fisher

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Read more Remembering Carrie Fisher

Charlotte Bronte did NOT repair her mourning shoes with her dead sister’s hair!

Cross-posted from: Katharine Edgar
Originally published: 09.12.16

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A lie can travel halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on. Or, in this case, a contemporary artwork shared by a witty but mistaken tweeter can lead to a myth taking root worldwide, with over 16,000 retweets and nearly 30,000 Twitter likes in a few days. That’s a lot of people who now think this is true and that Charlotte Bronte really did go for muddy walks in her black silk mourning slippers and then fix them with Emily’s hair, not forgetting to embroider little sprigs of heather on the insoles.
Read more Charlotte Bronte did NOT repair her mourning shoes with her dead sister’s hair!

A Siege of Herons and a Winter Forest: Carols, Poems and Stories for Christmas by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Books
Originally published: 22.12.15

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When I emptied out my desk in search of Christmas cards, I realised I’d been stockpiling quite a bit. Wrapping paper with yew and ivy and Christmas berries on it; stocks of illuminated manuscripts; multiple versions of deer in winter (I understand you can buy a Primark Christmas jumper with queer deer now, too); lots of birds sitting in amongst the illuminated branches and Christmas greenery. I’ve got birds on the tree, too, and my housemate made a wreath with mistletoe, holly and fir cones from Cambridge Botanic gardens (she works there). And I’ve been cutting back the laurel and ivy hedges in the back garden so I’ve got a mug full of ivy berries.

IMG_3428 It’s all traditional Christmas imagery – the outside brought inside; the reminders of winter forests. But for medieval people, Christmas was not just a mid-winter festival; it was also the culmination of the fasting season of Advent and the beginning of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the traditional time for Christmas games and feasting and also for hunting the animals to provide the Christmas food. The religious festival itself had a plangent and brooding undertone, which you can see from carols such as the mournful Coventry Carol, the austere, foreboding and triumphal ‘Out of Your Sleep/Arise and Wake’ and ‘Adam Lay Y-Bounden’, with their glances out from Christ’s nativity to the Harrowing of Hell it foreshadows. These carols shift our attention, from the expected centrality of Christ’s nativity, to focus on the narratives that run alongside, and outside, this one.
Read more A Siege of Herons and a Winter Forest: Carols, Poems and Stories for Christmas by @LucyAllenFWR

Even after death

Cross-posted from: Abigail Rieley
Originally published: 03.11.16

I’ve often written about the case of William Burke Kirwan on this blog. His was the case that caused me to pursue a different path in life. Since 2010 I’ve been researching his murder of his wife and it’s lead me back to university and in directions I never dreamed of and there’s plenty more to do. So at this stage I’m a little bit proprietorial. My friends know this about me and tend to point out interesting nuggets about the case they stumble upon. In Dublin, after all, it’s a very well know case indeed. You can still argue about it if you take the boat out to Ireland’s Eye from Howth.

So when the Irish Times featured the case as part of their series of stories from their archives, quite a few Irish friends sent me the link and asked me what I thought. Now I’ll say again that this is a case that is very special to me so I’m apt to be a touch judgemental but in this case the article in question raised my hackles both as a historical scholar and as a court reporter. 
Read more Even after death