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May 11, 2008

"Fashioning Gender: Contexts and Approaches": Saturday 10th May, University of Warwick

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“Fashioning Gender: Contexts and Approaches” was a one-day conference that invited historians, museum researchers, and those based in art and design fields to discuss the interrelation between fashion and gender, and the methodologies involved in these processes.

Elizabeth Wilson gave the keynote talk on “What do Feminists want? Fashion and Second-wave Feminism” which drew on her writing of Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Having lived through first- and second-wave feminism, Wilson provided a highly insightful overview of the developments and changes in feminist issues, and the part that dress has played in the feminist movement: from the 1960’s “sexual liberation”, which a sceptical Wilson contended was in some ways a period of sexual repression and an era in which dress, whilst critiqued by feminists, remained a real issue for many concerned about how to look feminist/ “different”; to the 1980s, which saw feminism to some extent influencing fashion trends such as punk, in addition to confusion amongst feminists over whether critiquing clothes was simply “shooting the messenger”, attacking the symbolic product rather than the producers behind fashion.

With regards to the present day, Wilson argued that the most significant change to the fashion industry (along with celebrity culture and “fast fashion”) is the issue of individualism; individualism, said Wilson, has reached a point of stifling social meanings, the ideology of choice so great that it’s become difficult to find tangible meanings in fashion, there’s so much choice that the choices one makes have become essentially meaningless. Wilson suggested that the only real choice left is that of Islamic dress, and the most meaningful critique of Western dress is emerging from Islamic discourses. Yet in spite of the difficulties of finding meanings in fashion, Wilson’s central message was to assert that fashions do have collective and social meanings which we should attempt to retain.

The first panel began with a paper by Catherine Richardson on “Fashioning Early Modern Gender Between Literature and History”. Richardson’s discussion of 16th and 17th century clothing covered both the practical elements of clothing- such as the closer relationship between clothing and the body in a period when clothes are largely made personally for the wearer- and the cultural implications of choices about dress, which was an important point of discussion in religious debates as well as signifying social status and contributing to developing notions of gender construction. Richardson’s talk posed some interesting questions about the relationship between fashion and gender: where do ideas about gender and fashion come from: the elite, or lower down the social scale? And do material gender practices construct or reflect culture?

Barbara Burman followed with “Dress, Gender and the Object” which drew on Burman’s research into pockets, focusing here particularly on the nineteenth century. Significant differences were identified between men’s and women’s pockets- men’s clothing contains numerous pockets visible on the outer garment, whereas in women’s dresses pockets are hidden away in a number of places, such as in folds or pleats of the dress, between the several layers of skirts, in the bustle, or the petticoat, and could either be part of the dress itself or a separate attachment tied around the waist. For women the pocket provided an alternative space of personal privacy within the fashioned dress; the interplay between the two demonstrates, Burman stated, how fashion may be owned and enjoyed, but also resisted. Burman also asked the question, to what extent can gender be inside an object, suggesting that pockets of this kind are inherently gendered.


The second panel looked at the construction of masculinities and fashion in papers by Peter McNeil and Christopher Breward. McNeil’s talk “Crafting Queer Spaces: Privacy and Posturing” considered the connections between interior design, spatial planning, privacy, and same-sex desire. Looking at specific interiors of eighteenth-century Europe, specifically designs by Sir Horace Walpole, McNeil asked, to what degree did these spaces make the queer subject visible? These spaces of opposition, removed from the world, provided a specific space for the queer subject. Breward’s paper, “Modes of Manliness: Issues in the Histories of Masculinities and Fashion” addressed the problem of the general disinterest in the collection of, and research into, men’s everyday clothing from previous centuries. The lack of special attention to men’s attire has become naturalized, strengthening the assumption that fashion is a feminine phenomenon. However, men’s clothing does reveal discourses involved in men’s self-fashioning concerning political, social and sexual power- the Englishman’s suit, for example, suggests an efficient, organised, patriarchal order, figuring as the material projection of the bourgeois desire for self-discipline.

Breward ended by asserting that an emphasis on men’s gender construction helped to bridge the public-private dichotomy that assumes men have little-to-no connection with elements of the “private” (and implicitly, the body) such as fashion. This discussion of public-private relations provided an interesting connection to some of the issues raised the previous day at the Street Life conference, offering a point of intersection between these two fields which are both explored in my reseach exploring the situation and gendered construction of the spatially positioned body in public and private spaces. As I continue to reflect on these two days of conferences, I hope some more useful connections between these and other ideas will emerge, thereby really embracing and developing the inter-disciplinary focus of each event.

(Final note: there was one more panel at this conference but I had to leave early).

April 10, 2008

Women Writing Space Conference

Women Writing Space: Representations of Gender and Space in post-1850 British Women's Writing

A one-day graduate conference at the University of Warwick
Saturday 7th March 2009

In the second half of the 20th century space has become a reference point of cultural debates. Feminist critics have been particularly receptive to the new findings in this field, and set out to explore the specificity of the relationship between gendered subjects and the spaces they inhabit.

This conference invites papers from a range of disciplines, reflecting the scope of contemporary feminist interest in spatial configurations. Whilst the theoretical scope of the conference is broad, the central issue of “how British women writers represent space” will remain the focus of the day, considering questions such as, how do women writers construct literary space? What types of spaces/places are represented in works by women? How are received notions of space/place interpreted, accepted, or contested? How do we theorise the textual spaces in women’s writing?

We welcome papers covering British women’s writing over a period ranging from the mid-19th century to the present. This choice conveys our intuition that the contemporary interest in space may be traced back to the Victorian age, when industrialization, and the rapid changes in landscape and workplace it involved, considerably developed the writers’ spatial awareness. Without losing sense of the specificity of the historical periods involved, this conference will therefore provide the site for a productive comparative perspective.

Papers will be focused around themes such as: definitions of the ‘public sphere’ and their subversions; enclosed places/spaces of confinement; “Woman and the City”; feminist dystopias/utopias; bodies in space/sexuality and space; borders and boundaries, liminality; theorising textual spaces through women’s writing; the (in)visibility of women’s position on social/cultural/ethnic maps.

The Conference is sponsored through the award of a Humanities Reseach Centre Doctoral Fellowship, and jointly organised by myself and Arina Lungu

A Call for Papers will be posted soon. Check the conference websitefor updates and further information.

February 14, 2008


Writing about web page

Apart from the obvious, today is also the 10th anniversary of V-Day. V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women, begun by Eve Ensler in 1998 with the production "The Vagina Monologues". V-Day now organises many campaigns and events across the world, and there will be many more this year to celebrate the 10th anniversary- which is being marked with an event in New Orleans in April. The dates have yet to be announced but there will be events in both Birmingham and Stratford-Upon-Avon in the coming months, as well as many other locations around the country.

February 08, 2008

90 years of the vote

Writing about web page

A couple of days late, but I just came across this interesting collection of pictures from the suffragette movement, marking the 90th anniversary since the right for many women to vote was gained on 6th February 1918.

October 30, 2007

Women's No Pay Day


Go to the Fawcett Society Women's No Pay Day campaign page to find out more, sign the petition, and find out other ways to support action for equal pay.

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