Gendered Voices – Day 2

Following on from yesterday’s post, here’s what we got up to on the second day of the Gendered Voices conference.

Session one was all about representation and began with Rosie talking about her research into coming out experiences. This is very valuable work, and the sort of thing that Berkeley and I will keep a close eye on as it can be used as evidence to encourage action by local and national government.

Next up an emergency fill-in from Louise (always a brave thing to do) about the 19th Century gothic writer, Lucas Malet, noted for her particularly morbid imagination. Malet was the daughter of novelist Charles Kingsley who wrote The Water Babies, an exceptionally unpleasant piece of Christian allegory aimed at kids. It is no wonder the poor woman grew up warped. There are a lot of people doing research on 20th century women Gothic writers, but Louise is the only one I know who is working on the 19th Century. I’m sure she’d welcome some company.

The final paper was from Jenn and was about trans and non-binary representation in literature, in particular the literary fiction market. Jenn says that they know of only nine literary novels featuring trans characters. I’m pretty sure I could name nine from the past year in SF, and a similar number in realist YA, but thus far Jenn is resisting all of my attempts to lure them to the Dark Side.

Session two was all about violence and was very intense. It began with Jassi, a lawyer, talking about girl soldiers. When we hear about child soldiers in the media it is always about boys, but in fact between 30% and 40% of child soldiers are female. Not only are they erased by the Western media, but if the war they are fighting in is halted then they will be forced back into subservient social roles by their supposed rescuers.

Elena talked about group counseling for victims of sexual violence. Apparently this is quite effective, whereas one-to-one counseling can often further isolate the victim. Elena says that it is very rarely used in the UK. That’s interesting, because this sort of counseling is specifically mentioned in the Equality Act as a circumstance in which trans women can be excluded from women-only spaces. I had assumed that it would therefore be common, but no, the government made all that fuss about trans women not being women over a situation that was very unlikely to arise.

Encouragingly, Elena said that the rape crisis center she is working with is trans-inclusive.

The final speaker was Patrick who talked about women volunteers in the IRA. There were apparently a lot of them, and the way that they worked reminded me a lot of the French Resistance. Interestingly the IRA, despite being Catholic, were (and presumably still are) pro-abortion. I gather from social media that one of these IRA women is now a Conservative parliamentary candidate.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Thangam Debbonaire, the current MP for Bristol East. It was really good of her to keep the commitment despite there being an election on and her seat being very much at risk. She also gave a great speech. She’d make a brilliant WEP MP, but I can’t blame her for going with a party that can get her elected, even if its policies on women’s issues are not as good as ours.

Session three was on masculinities and opened up with Katherine talking about Priapus and modern masculinity. Priapus, you may remember, is the Roman god with the massive dick. The Romans used pictures of him to demonstrate how supposedly virile they were. Katherine compared Roman poetry and graffiti to modern social media posts and came to the brilliant conclusion that dick pics are modern day Priapus images. If cameras had been around in Roman times, they would have sent people pictures of their own dicks too. And they would have sent them to men that they wanted to dominate as well as to women.

Charlotte talked about the contrasting portrayals of King Richard and Henry Bolingbroke in Shakespeare’s Richard II. It bemused me as to why Shakespeare, writing during the reign of Elizabeth, would have written about an effeminate king being replaced by a manly usurper. So I asked, and discovered that the play had been sponsored by Essex, who was in the process of plotting a coup at the time. I have no idea how Will talked his way out of that one. I’m sure that Elizabeth must have been tempted to do the “Off with his head!” thing.

The paper that generated most social media chatter was one by Henry on the gender of mediaeval clergy. Some historians hold that the clergy were seen as a third gender by the rest of society. Henry, by examining the writings of late mediaeval chroniclers, made a convincing case that many of them did not see themselves in that way, and indeed went to great lengths to show how manly they were in their own domain (which was the spiritual war against sin).

The final session was on feminism, and kicked off with Ana looking at the educational reforms promoted by the lesbian author, Bryher. She had some really good ideas about how to give kids better education, but they did not go down well with the Great British Public. The Daily Mail asked readers to give their own views on the proposals. One man wrote in to say that it was the duty of school to educate girls out of having an imagination.

This was followed by Teresa talking about historical fiction writer, Sylvia Townsend Warner. She sounds like someone I would like to read, especially her fantasy novel, Lolly Willowes.

Finally we had James, a philosophy student, asking, “Why is there Feminist Epistemology at all?” The title apparently riffs off a well-known paper about the theory of mathematics. James made some very good points, particularly about Standpoint Theory. However, I don’t think you can even begin to talk about what feminist epistemology might be until you have first defined what feminism is. As that’s enough to keep many philosophers busy for decades to come, I think James’s question will have to wait.

You will note that I found something good to say about every paper. Huge congratulations to the organizers. That’s what I call a quality conference. I do hope it runs again next year.