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


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