Conflicted Bodies Conference

IMG-7716Our keynote, Jasbir Puar (Rutgers University), whose paper was titled: ”Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!’: Debility, Capacity, Disability’.

IMG-8072The panel on female militancy, chaired by Liz Sage (University of Sussex), with papers from Nadia Atia (Queen Mary University of London), Aryana Ghazi-Hessami (SOAS), and Moon Charania (Spelman College).

IMG-7860The panel on technology, security and surveillance chaired by Annie Goh (Goldsmiths), with papers by Jillian Terry (London School of Economics), Kate M. Davison (University of Melbourne), and Isabelle Held (Royal College of Art / Victoria & Albert Museum).

IMG-8074The panel on incarceration chaired by Andrea Brady (Queen Mary University of London), with papers by Christopher W. Clark (University of East Anglia), Fiona McCann (Université de Lille 3 SHS / Institut Universitaire de France), Emma Seaber (King’s College London), and Eleanor Careless (University of Sussex).

IMG-8073The panel on queering militarism, chaired by Samuel Solomon (University of Sussex), with papers by Katharine Millar (London School of Economics), Rachel Warriner (City and Guilds of London School of Art), Aaron Belkin (Palm Center / San Francisco State University), and Paul Kirby (London School of Economics).

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Mariah Garnett, ‘Other & Father’ (2015)

Orange OrderMariah’s Garnett’s video-installation Other & Father (2015) is part of a larger ongoing project, Trouble, which explores the artist’s relationship to her long-estranged father alongside the gender and sexual politics of the current Northern Irish Peace Process. The ‘Troubles’ (1968-98) was a thirty-year civil war between Catholic-Republicans and Protestant-Loyalists, fought over whether or not Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK. The conflict shaped a cultural environment that was intensely sexist and homophobic, as well as a widespread taboo on relationships between Catholics and Protestants.

Garnett is based in LA, but her father grew up as a Protestant in Belfast. Through the People’s Democracy party, a socialist and civil rights group, he met his girlfriend Moyra – a Catholic. The BBC broadcast a documentary on the couple in the early 1970s, misrepresenting them as engaged, and – against their wishes – aired the film in Northern Ireland. Garnett’s father never saw the original footage, but the resulting backlash forced the couple to separate and leave Northern Ireland.

As part of Other & Father, Garnett uncovered the documentary and showed it to her father for the first time, recording his surprise at how the BBC had portrayed the relationship. She then re-created the original film, frame by frame, in present-day Belfast – casting herself as her father and a trans actress (Robyn Reihill) as Moyra. The re-creation, with the BBC audio soundtrack, is on display as part of the Conflicted Bodies conference at Goldsmiths. The wall text that accompanies the video contains the artist’s diary entries while making the work.

IMG_7486The exhibition has been curated by Alex Coupe, Edwin Coomasaru and Eleanor Careless, generously funded by the Consortium for the Humanities and Arts in South-East England (CHASE). For more information on the Conflicted Bodies: Feminist and Queer Responses to Militarism and Violence conference at Goldsmiths, please see our website.

Seminar Series 2017

Since the start of 2017, we have held monthly seminars at The Courtauld Institute of Art through the Gender, Sexuality & Violence Research Network. They were a space to think through the ways patriarchy, militarism, racism and hetero-normativity were enmeshed and interdependent. By the same token: it was also a forum to think feminist, pacifist, queer and anti-racist politics together – as well as paying attention to the tensions between them. Each of us are from different disciplines – literature, performance studies, art history – but the cultural imagination was a current that ran through all our discussions: whether it be about the metaphors of an election campaign or an online game that allowed you to undress Donald Trump. Huge thanks to our speakers: Fintan Walsh, Helena Walsh, Ingrid Berthon-Moine, Hen Stanford, Verity Spott, Ash Sarkar, and Declan Gilmore-Kavanagh.

Masculinity in the Time of Trump

img_4447Our first seminar, held a few days after Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March in January, explored ‘Masculinity in the Time of Trump’. Reflecting on the racist, misogynistic ‘backlash’ that accompanied the rise of the US president we discussed masculinity and wounding – the way certain identities were constructed as threats in order to justify pre-emptive attacks. We considered walls and the War on Terror, the spectral re-animation of zombie-like enemies, and the anxiety of intimacy at the heart of fears about contagion. We talked about a loss of faith in ‘managerial masculinity’ in appeals for a ‘strongman’, but also how critiques of Trump based on trying to undress him – or render him ‘feminine’ – themselves perpetuated conservative ideas of gender.

Menstrual Politics and Protest

16826049_1309432865813850_4930817592862469243_oOur second seminar turned to the taboo on menstruation and its implication in restricted access to abortion rights in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Our decision to hold the event was sparked by Facebook removing an image of Judy Chicago’s 1971 artwork Red Flag from our page and threatening to ban us from the social network permanently. In being told we violated ‘community standards’, we asked: whose community, what standards? During the seminar we discussed the perceived ‘leaks’ and ‘spillages’ of the female body have been historically policed, to contain and confine its agency, autonomy and threat. We heard from artists working to undermine and explode the shame that imprisoned women’s bodies.

Female Militancy

17637198_1346446468779156_2373604443007473112_o.jpgOur third seminar considered the politics of female militancy: how the figure of armed women both registered in and disrupted gender norms of the collective imagination. In the nineteenth and twentieth-century, women deemed too ‘wilful’ – whether they were demanding the vote or exhibiting independent agency – were ascribed characteristics of hysterical, mad, excessively sexual, contagious, corrupted, a tidal wave of apocalyptic destruction. But in a world with a clear division of gender essentialist norms – men as self-sacrificial soldiers and women as domestic-bound mothers birthing future fighters – the figure of the female militant also puts considerable stress on the conceptual foundations of patriarchal-militarism.

Trans* Manifestos

D81CD8DF-E63F-46CF-9724-199BCE35D126Our fourth seminar considered transgender politics, and what it meant to think gender – or other forms of identity – beyond a binary. Following the claims of Jenni Murray, BBC Women’s Hour presenter, that ‘trans women were not “real” women’, we reflected on transphobia within strands of feminism and society as a whole. The trouble with trying to erect a distinction between ‘real’ women and those who are supposedly not, is you quite quickly run out of explanations of what characterises a ‘real woman’: women are as heterogeneous and varied members of a nation. Nevertheless: we talked about the difficulty of using language – a language itself so loaded with assumptions about identify. Collapsing and totalising people into ‘us’ and ‘them’, and erecting supposedly irreconcilable borders and boundaries in between, is not only the logic of militarism – but also hetero-normativity and patriarchy.

Gendering GE2017

18738768_1417803748310094_5511495639101229759_oFinally, our last seminar – held a couple of days after the Manchester Attack – considered the gender politics of the 2017 UK General Election alongside reflections on Brexit, British identity, racism and the War on Terror. The Conservatives cast Jeremy Corbyn an ‘unmanly’ threat to the nation – a ‘wobbly jelly’ ‘shooting blanks’. But his defenders, at times, fought back with similar ideas of gender and power – memes depicted Corbyn as muscular, sword-wielding; while May was denounced as mad, a witch, unwell, wobbly, a toad, a dragon, a serpent, an alien. It leaves us with a question: how does one think a feminist, pacifist, queer politics without recourse to patriarchal, militaristic and hetero-normative ideas of power? How might we re-examine, read between the lines, and radically alter our entire imaginative framework in the ever-urgent struggle for equality and social change?

Gendering GE2017: Video Highlights

What were the gender politics at play in the 2017 UK General Election? The CHASE Gender, Sexuality & Violence Research Network held a seminar on the 24th May 2017 at Somerset House to discuss campaign rhetoric and the politics of identity a few days after the Manchester Attack. Ash Sarkar (Novara Media) gave a talk on security, racism and Brexit; followed by Dr Declan Gilmore-Kavanagh (University of Kent) who discussed Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn’s camp and effeminate masculinities.

Gendering GE2017: Kitten Heel Security and ‘Unelectable’ Masculinity

IMG_23846:30-8:00pm, Room F44 (First Floor), New Wing, Somerset House, 24/5/17

What are the gender politics at play in the 2017 UK General Election? Is Jeremy Corbyn considered ‘unelectable’ because of a perceived deficit of masculinity? Is Theresa May more of a ‘statesman’? What does it mean for our ideas of leadership, strength and order to be so indebted to militaristic and patriarchal notions of masculinity – even when the incumbent leader is a woman? “Strength”, “stability” and “control” are terms that have considerable electoral cachet at times of crisis, projecting the fantasy of a bounded and distinct national polity. The conservative imagination has historically pictured unmanliness and queerness as threatening a chaotic collapse of the social order.

Hegemonic masculinity is ultimately about control – the ability to exert control over those who are supposedly unable to do so themselves (women, LGBTQ+ identities, other races) – a kind of ‘benign’ custodianship that keeps structural inequalities of sexism, homophobia and racism in place. How might such social norms and concepts of power be unpicked? How can we – as feminists, pacifists, queer thinkers and Ordinary Working Families™ – think against such a political landscape? And how might an alternative language reform how politics is done?

The Conservative Party’s fashioning of Corbyn as an apocalyptic danger to the UK’s military defences and economy (while insisting on Theresa May’s ‘strength’, ‘stability’ and her eagerness to declare ‘war’), is rooted in the representation of Corbyn as emasculated and “feeble”. When Michael Fallon described Corbyn as “gutless” and a “risk to national security”, what his implications for conceptions of masculinity and the nation? How does this kind of rhetoric feed into our experiences of the War on Terror, Brexit and British identity? To engage with such questions is to think through the legacy of colonialism that has fundamentally shaped the gendered ideas valued and voted for in British electoral politics. That notions of power are embedded in such histories has implications for the left as well as the right.

Is the idea of having a mainstream non-macho party leader simply inconceivable for the electorate? What is at stake in the circulation and reproduction of strength/weakness metaphors and the gender norms they touch on? What are the psychoanalytic implications of the language of security and vulnerability? What are the deeper politics at play in phantasies of ‘herbivorous mutton-headed mugwumps’? How might the (faux?) feminism of Theresa May, alongside self-interested attacks on Corbyn’s masculinity, point us towards a complication of the gender binary? And how might the left engage better with feminist critiques to de-masculinise deeply embedded fantasies of violence and power?

For our fifth GSV seminar, we will have short papers by Ash Sarkar (Novara Media) and Dr Declan Gilmore-Kavanagh (University of Kent), followed by a group discussion. Please book (free) tickets on eventbrite as space will be limited. The seminar’s reading list is below:

Core Readings

Further Readings

Trans* Manifestos: Thinking Against Essentialised Binaries

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6:30-8:00pm, Room F44 (First Floor), New Wing, Somerset House, 26/4/17

‘Trans*’ supposes transition, where is that transition from and to? Changing gender does not mean changing body. If you want to change body, you should. You should be allowed to tear out its sides, the sides of the law, the walls of the language, the surface of liquid. If you want to change your gender, you can. I think. There’s more of an ideological shift involved though. What do you actually mean by gender. What is wrong. The liminal is not the attic space, the bit of left out/limbo/between. No. It’s the through space refusing mobility. […] The narratives imposed upon the ‘trans* community’ are as damaging as abject (trans*) phobia because that is exactly what they are. […] We are not in transition. We are in occupation. Internalize any one narration. Make it work. It won’t.

– Verity Spott, from Trans* Manifestos (Shit Valley, 2016)

There is a long history of imagining gender as a fixed binary between masculinity and femininity, as a line that cannot be crossed. Strands of feminist thought, too, have been grounded in biological essentialism. Recently, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggested trans women are not “real women”. Last month the presenter of BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour programme, Dame Jenni Murray, writing in The Sunday Times claimed that hormones and surgery do not make trans women “real women”. She told trans women: ‘Be trans, be proud — but don’t call yourself a “real woman”’. What is a “real woman”? Are all women’s and men’s experiences the same? What are the stakes of trying to hold on to an idea of gender essentialism within certain branches of feminism?

The presence of transphobia within feminist discourse has brought into focus the multi-directionality of patriarchal oppression. As gender non-conforming performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon recently observed:

cis feminism refuses to acknowledge, validate, and center forms of patriarchal violence that run contrary to the gender binary of cis man against cis woman. But what my experiences as a gender non-conforming person have shown me is that cis men can be deeply misogynist and violent to each other, to men who they perceive as feminine, and to trans and gender non-conforming people.

In societies where masculine ideals of domination, competitiveness and self-sufficiency operate to police cis men, how might a trans-inclusive feminism move beyond norms of hegemonic masculinity? And how might a trans-inclusive perspective approach the causes and consequences of cis men’s attempts to straighten out feminine identifications?

Verity Spott’s Trans* Manifestos (Shit Valley, 2016) suggest that the through space, the ‘transition’ supposed by ‘Trans*’, can be permanently occupied. That narratives of transition are constraints that assume a binary, a from and to. How might we radically re-navigate historical notions of what gender is assumed to “be”, in a way that is urgent for feminist and queer politics today?

In our fourth GSV seminar we will be joined by poet and musician Verity Spott. The seminar is open to all, and refreshments will be provided. Please book (free) tickets on eventbrite. The seminar’s reading list is below:

Core Readings

 

Further Readings

 

Female Militancy: Feminist and Post-Colonial Readings of Violence

Female IRA fighter, 1970s crop.jpg

6:30-8:00pm, Room F44 (First Floor), New Wing, Somerset House, 30/3/17

In 2015, the Bethnal Green schoolgirls Shamima Begum, Amira Abase, and Kadiza Sultana left the UK to join IS in Syria, and in so doing captured the attention of the British media. In these accounts, the girls are passive victims, and their actions are the result of naivety, vulnerability, manipulation, misguidedness, or brainwashing. According to The Daily Mail, they were ‘lured’ to Syria; fell under the ‘spell of Islamists’, and had ‘poisoned minds’; in The Guardian, they are cast as ‘vulnerable children’; and The Telegraph ran the headline ‘Why teenage girls can’t see beyond Isil’s ‘cute kittens and Nutella’ ploy’ in which the girls were described as ‘gullible and guileless’.

It seems within the (racialised) logics of militarism and patriarchy, women can only be helpless victims. The figure of the female militant, however, has provoked such anxiety precisely because it threatens not just to deviate from gender norms, but also undermine the logic on which both militarism and patriarchy rest: men protecting ‘damsels in distress’. In fact, for centuries British colonialism was (and to this day still is) justified under the rhetoric of ‘saving brown women from brown men’. So ingrained is this logic that a 2016 change in UK law to allow women to serve on the front line was met with dismay. Kate Medina, a soldier in the British Army, insisted: ‘[w]e are physically different to men. It is a biological fact … women will be put in greater danger than their male colleagues purely because of their biology. Concerns have also been expressed by senior military figures that male soldiers would need to ‘look after’ their female colleagues … Are we really ready to see our daughters gang raped, tortured and decapitated live on the Internet by Isis fighters? Because that is exactly what will happen’ (The Telegraph, 8/7/2016).

The difficulty in accommodating the figure of the female militant into gender norms and militarist fantasies has historically fuelled an image of such a woman as mad, hysterical, nonsensical, sexually excessive, cannibalistic, devious, wicked, witch-like. A recent study of the figure of the female terrorist by Amanda Third found that ‘dominant representations of femininity are constituted in and through a discursive impossibility of evidence’. The lack of evidence to support terrorist studies’ not insignificant literature on the female terrorist derives, according to Third, from the reproduced preconception that women are unknowable and elusive, and female terrorists even more so. This has been the case from militant suffragettes to Ulrike Meinhof, Patty Hearst, Leila Khaled and Mairéad Farrell in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. How might we read between the lines or against the grain of how these women are pictured in the conservative imagination? How might a feminist approach to these questions undo the logics of patriarchy, militarism and heteronormativity that cast female violence as doubly deviant? How might these politics play out in a context like Palestine – or other sites of colonial conflict?

In our third GSV seminar, we will be joined by Dr Henrietta Stanford (The Courtauld Institute of Art), who will discuss her work on psychoanalysis, art, and the gender politics of the Red Army Faction. The seminar is open to all, and refreshments will be provided. Please book (free) tickets on eventbrite. The seminar’s reading list is below:

Core Readings

Further Readings

  • Adriana Cavarero, ‘When the Bomb is a Woman’s Body’, Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), pp.97-105.
  • Jasbir Puar, ‘Introduction: Homonationalism and Biopolitics’, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007) pp.1-36.
  • Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), pp.1-11.
  • Karen Beckman, ‘Terrorism, Feminism, Sisters, and Twins: Building Relations in the Wake of the World Trade Center Attacks’, Grey Room, No. 7 (Spring 2002), pp.25–29. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1262583?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Image: Colman Doyle, A woman IRA volunteer on active service in West Belfast with an AR18 assault rifle, c.1970s (detail).