Tag Archives: social change

A Woman’s a Woman for A’ That

Nana recently attended her first Burn’s supper. This involved being introduced to the twin customs of The Toast to the Lassies and The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies.

At the particular supper to which I was party, the Toast to the Lassies was a cheekily scurrilous account of the behaviours of the fairer sex which, in baffling the speaker, were deemed praiseworthy from a sense of bewilderment if nothing else. The Reply, in turn, was a robust account of how, like many other fine examples of the dominant sex, our esteemed speaker could only succeed in life with the support of a good woman.

An amusing showcase of ‘70s gender politics, then.

Over in Glasgow, meanwhile, The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies was being delivered for the first time by a transgender woman – Jo Clifford . I’d recommend a read.

This curious whisky-fuelled cocktail of discourses fair set my head spinning.

When Germaine Greer rattled everyone’s cage recently with her pronouncement that transgender women were not women, I confess I had some sympathy with her position. She was responding to Caitlyn Jenner’s award of Woman of the Year and I suspect Germaine wasn’t the only person whose feminist sentiments rankled at the implied notion that femininity could best be made successful by bringing on board a new CEO who used to be man. A new spin on the ‘old boys’ network’ to be sure, but one guaranteed to bring out the conspiracy theorist in any card-carrying member of the old guard.

And I have to further confess to initially feeling something of the same response to Jo’s Reply – she draws very heavily on her previous experiences as a man to illustrate the uniqueness of her position. Surely it is this unique view that separates her experiences from those of women raised as females within our society? After all, Jo’s conversion/ full realization of herself as a woman came after years of living as boy and man during which time she was surely not entirely immune to the calque of masculine privilege ossifying her form?

As I pondered this, I began to muse on the various situations of the three people amongst my friends and acquaintances whose experiences in this regard really count.

First among these is Jo herself, to whose acquaintance I can lay scant claim beyond the intimacy of her one-woman show The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven — the most moving and thought-provoking theatrical work on this theme I have encountered. (See it if you can).

The second acquaintance may yet be too young to offer her considered account, since she is a child whose inner female was so strong she began her transition at infant school and her journey continues through her still tender years.

The third is a childhood friend whose strong female identity was a certain cat amongst the pigeons of a late ‘60s – early ‘70s childhood in our working class northern English milieu. He now lives as a (camp) adult homosexual man.

I cannot gainsay whether Germaine Greer has any genuine axe to grind with transgender women. It may be that she simply rejects transgender women as women. Rightly or wrongly, I took her argument to be that by including transgender women in the category ‘women’ we deny the uniqueness of their perspective.

But, I come to realise, this is also precisely where such an argument begins to unravel.

For the two folks I know most intimately, it couldn’t be said they had ‘enjoyed’ a prototypical male socialization experience. But then who could claim that?

And whilst I consider myself very much a female I’m not sure I could claim a prototypical female socialization experience, since I’m not entirely sure what one is. Or at least if I imagine one, it is simply that- a construct of the imagination; a fairytale amalgamated from an idiosyncratic selection of all the various gendered and gendering experiences available.

And I couldn’t even give you a percentaged guesstimate of how much of ‘me’ is gendered. Because don’t we all have a core being that remains a genderless thing?

When I wake in the early hours and am gazing at the sleeping windows of the houses in the town where I live, I am not conscious of doing that as a woman, but as a being. The fact that my being is in human form I concede has a considerable degree of influence on my perspective in this instance, but I’m not sure that my gender always exerts the same force.

So whilst the rigidity of the existing gender options of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are beneficially challenged by the fluidity of the trans experience, Germaine’s move to insert a further category of ‘transgender woman’ (and presumably its counterpart ‘transgender man’ — although as a feminist I find it telling that this category is little vaunted, much like Queen Victoria’s infamous lesbian blindspot) still leaves the gender landscape hopelessly codified. The cranny between ‘transgender woman’ and ‘cis woman’ (a term I find both ugly and difficult to accept) simply offers a fertile space for further prejudice to gestate.

Yet surely language has a key role to play. It is the primordial conceptual brine through which we all emerge. Language shapes our imaginations as well as our cultures.

The youngest of my children is of a generation which seeks to obliterate gender altogether. It’s taken me some time to grasp, but this seems to me a genuinely liberating ideal, and worth pursuing.

The most immediate barrier for English speakers is one of pronouns. It seems petty, but in the petri-dish of identity formation pronouns are protozoic.

Discovering self is wonderfully neutral from a gendered language perspective: I; me.

Beyond self, however, our language offers a binary choice of pronouns available to the description of other individual humans, and the only alternative is so cold that we often gender inanimate objects in order to avoid it.

That linguistic move between self and another is our first operation of ‘othering’, and it brings into focus another important aspect of this whole debate. Perhaps one reason for its resonance in contemporary society (after all gender challenges are nothing new) is that it speaks to the conflict between individualism and collectivity.

Here arguments of biology are shown to be something of a red herring, and the question is whether – in an increasingly atomized society – we can ever claim sufficient commonality with others to form an invulnerable group identity. And, given a choice, would we want to?

What premises underpin the claim that ‘we’ are ‘women’ and ‘you’ are ‘men’ ?

Is the rise of individuation a threat to compassion, empathy and sharing? Or does recognition of each as individual remove the barriers that currently divide us as human beings?

As the French philosopher Michel Serres suggests in Hermès, what we have constructed as a coherent real could just as easily be understood to be ‘fluctuating tatters’ wherein ‘the state of things consists of islands sown in archipelagoes on the noisy, poorly understood disorder of the sea…’

Doesn’t our increasing transhumanism broaden our ability to simultaneously encounter, comprehend, experience such that it may become the gift of our time to leave behind the cold safety of categories, to swim freely in the fast-flowing burn of our digital social connectivity?

Perhaps at next year’s haggis someone will be brave and gifted enough to uphold the Lost Burns manuscript tradition with a gender-free rewrite of For a’ That and a’ That ?

And perhaps we might all find the confidence to raise a dram in toast.

 

 

Advertisements

The turn to [w]righting

I loved the PhD process – it felt like the best kind of holiday. But the post-doc slump was a limbo where potential only served to paralyze.

I spent three years labouring to construct new paths, only to dither at my own crossroads, punchdrunk and confused. Everyone knows you meet the devil at the crossroads if you hang around there too long.

The recent UK election results were a slap in the face though, weren’t they?

A wake-up. A call to arms.

I’d love to be mistaken, but I have a sense that I’m about to witness the dissolution of many things I hold dear to my homeland, my landscape, my reality.

So what can I do?

I can write. I’ve always written. I’ve never not been able to write.

But I have always taken it for granted.

After the PhD, I trained as an English teacher and have spent time volunteering in classrooms with teenagers and adults who are learning English. They are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Their stories are inspirational – how brave must you be to leave everything, and perhaps everyone you have loved and begin again in a new and distant unknown?

How inspiring when a thirty year old woman who has never had the opportunity to be literate in any language struggles through her first formal lesson, returning the following week having diligently conquered not only the manipulation of a pencil but all the letters of our Roman alphabet. How not to shed a tear watching her quietly and proudly score full marks in the spelling test?

So now I see the privilege and the power of writing. But how to use it?

I asked a professional writer I met lately. She told me, ‘You have to be selfish to be a writer. You start with competitions online; that’s how you get into it’.

I didn’t have to think about this much to know this is not my kind of practice.

Then I found myself working in a wonderful, integrated but temporary environment. It feels both entirely natural and starkly unusual to work in this little utopia, in this company of people that properly represent the diversity of our society. We are working on a piece about transformation.

It was when I was pouring tea and affirming – “Yes, yes. We must give voice’.

So that’s it then.

This is what I can do. So I will do it. I will gather stories and give witness.

I can use all my scholarship; the languages I have learned, the linguistics I have studied, my Social History degree. I can use the decades of translating and interpreting, the years spent lending my voice to others.

Isn’t this ‘translation art’, after all?

I can use all I learned at CeNTraL (the Centre for Narratives and Transformative Learning) from wonderful women like Jane Speedy, Susanne Gannon and Tami Spry; the Writing as Inquiry, the Narrative Interviewing, the Collective Biography, the Auto-ethnography.

I will wrangle with words until I am a wordwright. I will write, so the weight of the words may help right the imbalances in our homeland, our landscape, our reality.

Nana Froufrou does [w]righting.

So now I’m packing my pencil and heading out. It may take time to develop this practice, but I’ll keep you posted with notes and sketches and voices….

Copyright@2015 Kyra Pollitt


#Research in process: A series of illuminating events

Isn’t it funny how sometimes life just insists it has something to tell you? This last fortnight I’ve been going through various procedures in preparation for a submission to the Research Ethics Committee, hoping for permission to busy myself with real grown-up research in 2012. The procedures that the University lays down are pretty thorough, so who’s to say whether they foreshadowed the strange series of events that unfurled last week, or whether this was a major case of synchronicity (*cue spooky soundtrack*)?

I guess it all began with one of my Supervisors who suggested that, before making elaborate plans to actively involve poets and artists in a research process, I might first think to ask some of them if they considered this a good idea. Sound advice, and an obvious oversight on my part. Thus it was that I found myself as hearing-person-with-videocamera talking to (‘interviewing’?) some deaf poets.

Now that might seem a fairly innocuous activity, and I thought so too. I’ve known all of these people socially for years, I’m fluent in British Sign Language, and we talked in various locations –some of their choosing, some merely of convenience; involving tea and cakes, pot roast suppers and planned cocktails. All very cosy. But, with hindsight, a couple of things were disturbing. One was that, very occasionally, some of the folks I was chatting to seemed to default to a sort of ‘automatic pilot’ script, and I had to gently remind them of the topic of our conversation. The other arose from what we might call a tiny disaster; one poet and I’d had a good old chat for over an hour but the video camera hadn’t worked, so we had no record of it whatsoever. This was annoying, but not disturbing. What was disturbing was that when we tried to reschedule, the deaf poet’s diary was stuffed with appointments to be interviewed by various hearing researchers. So that was the first event in this process of illumination.

The second event occurred over coffee with a colleague. I was busy picking his brains about ethical procedures and the like when he uttered the sentence “I’ve been interviewing [name of one deaf individual] for ten years”. For the purposes of our conversation, this was intended to illustrate his seniority and experience, but I think the raw content took us both aback.

And suddenly I began to understand that automated script response that had nudged into my ‘friendly chats’ with some of the deaf poets. Suddenly I saw that- despite what I thought of myself- I was in many ways just another hearing-person-with-videocamera come to extract what I could from the deaf subject.

A Gestalt therapist would have been cock-a-hoop (pun intended) because this connected incredibly strongly with the one and only time I have been the subject of this academic value-extraction process. I HATED it. I’m still trying to get over it, but whenever it rears its ugly little head it is still guaranteed to bring out an apoplectic tornado of spat feathers, claws and bile. Not my best side.

For me it wasn’t just the appropriation of my work and insights, nor the power exercised in the exclusion of my agency,  not even the superficiality involved in ticking the ethical boxes (Phone call: “I’m at a conference and I’m just about to give a paper. I just wanted to check with you that it’s ok to use your name and show images of you…”). All of these experiences were destructive and demeaning but the worst, by far, is the ongoing experience of the researcher now positioning themselves as ‘expert’- a position validated by the field.

So this was the third surprising and illuminating event. I had imagined I was just going to have to suck sour plums on that one for evermore and say ‘NO!’ very firmly whenever anyone else approached me as subject. It was only this week that I realised this might, in fact, be a most useful and empowering experience. Because that experience, inadvertently, has given me insight. Not on a theoretical level, but emotionally. I know how it feels.

Of course I don’t know how it feels to be treated like that year after year. What it must be like to watch whole cadres (of the friendly folks whose tribe routinely dominate and oppress your tribe) use your knowledge, experience and insights to become experts in your field, to be legitimated as your superiors, to get the social kudos and to carry home fatter wage packets than you.

How do deaf subjects tolerate this? But then what choice do they (feel they) have? I gave so much away because I didn’t want to be nasty, and couldn’t bring myself to be so cruel as to withdraw consent when I knew I was the only subject of the study. I mean, how would that look? On one occasion I found myself in a group being ‘taught’ by the researcher in question. The researcher was obviously disconcerted and struggling with the situation so, with a discreet wink and temporary generosity of heart I feigned ignorance of one of the most basic premises of a subject I had taught at post-graduate level for over a decade. Alas, the researcher had come to believe their own research paradigm and so was convinced that this action merely evidenced their academic superiority. But what on earth drove me to such generosity with someone who might otherwise be understood as simply out to exploit me? I can’t find a word to answer that question, but it is a beginning of an understanding of the position of deaf subject.

As far as my own research goes, I already knew that I didn’t want to use the interview as my basic methodological tool, but I hadn’t hitherto considered quite how conditioned as subject my co-researchers might have had to become.

I hadn’t considered that it might be a good idea to tell them about my own experience, how much I hated it and how much I really wouldn’t want to do that to anyone (unwittingly or no).  And I also hadn’t considered that perhaps I should make it clear that I’m not involving myself with sign language poetry because I’m crafting myself a future as an ‘expert’ in that area (actually a nice little job as a researcher in a museum would be lovely, thanks).

I can’t change the fact that I am hearing, and I most definitely shouldn’t ignore it, but I can and should seek to mitigate it- and that takes some very careful and honest consideration.

After all that reflection I sat down to revise the research ethics documentation I’d been putting together, but what emerged from the keyboard was a map of chapter headings. Sometimes it’s difficult to control where your mind will wander. I gave in, finished the map and then took a chat break with another colleague. We talked for a while about Tom Docherty’s article in the THE (10.11.11). Tom recounted a number of considerations important to research and teaching, such as “We [should] go into a seminar or a laboratory or a library not knowing what we will have found out when we leave”. I told my colleague about my chapter headings map. She asked “So what are your conclusions going to be?” Weird event number four.

Now she was probably being tongue-in-cheek about the likelihood that my chapter headings map will bear any resemblance to the finished article, or perhaps she was simply encouraging me not to forget to reflect at the end of the process, or perhaps she was suggesting that no kind of map can be value free, naive.

Whichever is the case, the ambiguity reminded me just how deeply ingrained those traditional research paradigms are (data>analysis>conclusions), and how firmly these practices are married to the pseudo-scientism of researcher-as- sole-expert and all the power relations that entails. How hard it is to kick over these traces!

I recently travelled to Salerno to give a paper to an international audience of interpreting and translation practitioners and academics. Working with a group of translators, I had put together a piece of collective biography that distilled their thoughts-in-process and re-presented them (in song/poem form). The research did not follow the traditional Social Science model; I was not presenting myself as an expert above all others (by claiming the data as my own, or making conclusions that would stake some claim on absolute truth). The work was in engineering an opportunity for these voices to speak (and to speak together), and in claiming a space for them in the current academic discourse of the field. The results were dramatic. The room divided before my eyes into practitioners and practitioner-academics on the one side versus academics on the other. Something of a humdinger ensued. One group got it. The other group couldn’t cope with this as ‘research’. I’ll leave you to guess which was which.

Of course I had been hoping that inviting poets and artists to co-research the topic of my PhD might upset some apple carts, but it may well prove more challenging than anticipated- to all concerned.

This ethics process sure is tough….


On hats and social change…

Nana has lately been silenced by her new understanding that any original images she posts here are not copyright to her, nor does she have moral right over them unless they have first been published to her private website. Thus, her private website is under construction and normal service will resume forthwith.

 In the meantime, Nana must be content to blog about things public. And what could be more public than the recent Royal event? A celebration which united women of all ages, races, beliefs and social strata in appreciation of the phenomenon of the hat.

 Hats off to the hat-so deeply enmeshed in our cultural identity and sense of worth and class that even our language sports hat-based idioms.

 Tipped by Vogue as early as S/S 10 to be the next big thing this coming A/W, hats are definitely back, and they are indeed an indicator of social change.

 The silicon pumped, bleached green, oompa loompa ladette army can’t carry a hat successfully, lacking the panache to wear anything beyond a fascinator at most. So this is a return, in the footsteps of our new fashion fascination the Duchess of Cambridge, to the cannily demure and poised English rose. And who knows, perhaps in a year or two, as this fashion moment appropriates the vintage movement that for the last five years has been manifesting the desire of women to escape the kind of post-feminist argument that sees pole-dancing as liberation, we’ll even be able to find real- woman-shaped bras in High Street lingerie shops? (Playtex are playing their cards very well on this score).

 But back to the hats displayed on The Day (for we are surely bound to witness a significant shift in millinery style over the next two to three years). Fascinators all of a sudden looked very passé. Marking this moment of transition was the tentatively positioned fascinator-to-hat. Think Countess of Wessex, Victoria Beckham, Tara P-T (also sporting Joe Bugner’s nose, which is not destined for fashion glory) and sooooo many others. Nana expects these hybrids will be with us for some time to come, both populist and popular, particularly serving as a favourite at the celebrations and parties of the fashion timid, and matching the new line in skirts rather well.

 It was right and proper that the big hat had a big moment on the big day, with Zara Philips leading the pack. Big hats simultaneously bounce off the current and likely short-lived return-to-70s-fey-glamour trend and scaffold a more conspicuously bold-yet-feminine ideal.

 Top marks, however, go to Crown Princess Letizia of Spain for her very retro, highly wearable and flattering cloche which will translate very well to day wear (Marks and Spencers are already stocking a straw version of the cloche in their summer range). Cloches, harking as they do to the 1920s-40s, speak to the fortitude, wisdom, skills and importance of the role of women in straitened economic times. The cloche as post-feminist, feminist icon.

 The biggest fashion faux-pas of the day must surely have been SamCam’s. Her decision not to wear a hat, widely predicted in the fashion press, did not appear so much fashion-forward as disrespectful, patronising and conceited. Along the lines of the recent, heinous ‘we fly Ryanair too’ spectacle, SamCam’s effort to appear egalitarian seriously and very sadly misjudged the hubby’s claim to one big (‘classless’) society. Oh dear. Actually, Sam, we proles have rather more class than that.


sheila sea

like thalassic velvet

Sage Brice

Formerly Jethro Brice / Socially and environmentally engaged art - developing collaborative approaches for a changeable world.

curzonprojecct

Just another WordPress.com site

DoubleU = W

WITHIN ARE PIECES OF ME

Elan Mudrow

The Ridges of Intertextuallity

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Keep trying

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Globe Drifting

Global issues, travel, photography & fashion. Drifting across the globe; the world is my oyster, my oyster through a lens.

modelmirror

Model behaviors you want to see more of. Seek out people you want to mirror.

Investigate | Create

involve, surprise, enthuse