Upcoming Seminar – “Revolvers and Ostrich Feathers: Images of Women’s Militancy in Revolutionary Ireland” Jess McIvor

On Monday 18th February the GSRN is pleased to have Jess McIvor from the University of Southampton and the University of Bristol present her paper for us “Revolvers and Ostrich Feathers: Images of Women’s Militancy in Revolutionary Ireland”.

Be sure to come along to G08 in the University of Readings Graduate School at 4pm!

Jess McIvors poster


Meeting Report: Penile Code: Cartoonish Censorship and Phallic Satire in the Yakuza Films of Miike Takashi

On Monday 28th January the Gender and Sexuality Research Network was happy to welcome Mark Player from the University of Readings Department of Film, Theatre and Television! Having completed his degree in film production at the University of Derby, Mark has spent 9 years working on his independent research projects on Japanese film. By honing in on this expertise and adding ideas of sexuality and gender in the portal of the penis, his paper ‘Penile Code: Cartoonish Censorship and Phallic Satire in the Yakuza Films of Miike Takashi’ puts forward a fresh and cutting-edge analysis of the Yakuza film genre.

Mark Player2

Starting with a film clip of a man revealing his, larger-than-life, censored penis, Mark assured the GSRN that there would be much more of such clips in store. The bold use of censorship, Mark informed us, speaks to the frequent censoring of genitalia within Japanese media. Such censorship follows from the legal proscription on displaying the genitals in film, animation, print etc. as per Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code.

Despite this legislation, it is sporadically enforced, and its vague wording gives rise to much flirting with what exactly constitutes ‘censorship’. Within this climate of lax enforcement, Misshitsu, a sexually explicit hentai manga (published in 2002), was held to have fallen foul of Article 175, in what appeared an arbitrary and pointed display of legal action. After the magazines author, Yuji Suwa was arrested and convicted after pleading guilty, the trial (the first of its kind for twenty years) was said to have had a ‘chilling effect’, shrinking efforts to subvert the law.

It is within this context that Mark places his research, seeing a growth in creative censorship styles across different media platforms emerging from a restrictive environment. Techniques such as ‘mosaic censorship’, ‘blurring effects’ and ‘embedded censorship’ (often stylized effects worked into the film for satirical effect) feature increasingly, and so his paper turned to focus on a specific type of film: the Yakuza films of Takashi Miike.

Yakuza films, being targeted at the white-collar worker, the single man, portray a classic ‘man’s world’ view. Women appear as wives or prostitutes and the machismo on screen gives little opportunity for anything but bullet proof men. The 1990s resurgence of this genre was hypermasculine to the degree that we might be inclined to call them a parody of those released in the 1970s. In Miike’s parody of the machismo, we see that “the larger the penis the larger the power.”

The phallic censorship that Mark traces in the Miike films closely follows this relationship, pulling out examples from films such as Dead or Alive 2: Birds 2000. The placement of the unrealistic and absurdly sized penises (always hidden behind a screen of pixilated, mosaic censoring) reveal the power and prestige of the proud penis holder. It is frequently associated with the success of the Yakuza member, their sexual prowess and ability to pleasure women,and often used in opposition to the emasculated man, the unfortunate bearer of a realistic and human sized penis. In effort to avoid censorship, artistic portrayals of the penis increase in absurdity and hypermasculinity, at times appeared weaponised and bio-mechanical.

Mark Player1We would like to thank Mark for presenting his paper which was fascinating, thought-provoking and entertaining in equal measure! We wish you all the best with the paper and with your research in the future.

The GSRN will meet on Monday 18th February for Jess McIvor’s paper titled ‘Revolvers and Ostrich Feathers: Images of Women’s Militancy in Revolutionary Ireland’. Join us at 4pm in the Graduate School G08 for what we are sure will be another fantastic paper.

Faye and Amy

Spring Term Programme 2019

We have a jam-packed schedule of talks this Spring! We began last week with Mark Player from Film, Theatre and Television, and will continue in a few weeks time with our guest Jess McIvor from the University of Southampton.

GSRN Spring 2019

Please note that for Faye and Marco’s talks, the room is still tbc, so keep an eye on the blog and our social media pages for info closer to the time. We hope to see you on the 18th February!

Amy and Faye

The ‘Finished Products’ of Maendeleo ya Wanawake: Britain’s Attempt of Social Engineering Amongst Kenyan Women, 1952-1960: Beth Rebisz

For our final meeting of 2018, the GSRN welcomed Beth Rebisz, a 2nd year PhD researcher from the Department of History here at Reading. Beth’s doctoral research examines the international humanitarian responses to counter-insurgency campaigns fought in Kenya, 1952-1960, and is particularly interested in exploring the roles of European and African female welfare workers in this context. Her paper focused on Maendeleo ya Wanawake, an organisation whose name means “Women’s Progress” in Kiswahili, and was set up in 1952 by the colonial administration with the aim of the “advancement of African women”.

Beth began by placing this organisation within the context of the Mau Mau conflict, when nationalist Kenyans attempted to overthrow the British colonial government and expel European settlers. This uprising was met with a brutal backlash by British authorities, and led to the detainment of Kenyan people within emergency villages. These villages often housed women and children, as men were mostly detained in work camps. A process of rehabilitation, known as the ‘pipeline’ was put in place, which individuals had to progress through before they were deemed fit to re-enter society. Within these villages, Maendeleo ya Wanawake was created.

Beth argued that the colonial administration of Kenya utilised Maendeleo ya Wanawake to quash nationalism, through incentivisation and rehabilitation, and under the guise of encouraging a notion of “self help” among the Kenyan women within these villages. The classes ran by Maendeleo ya Wanawake, and with the support of the British Red Cross Society, focused on domestic duties, such as cleaning, washing and caring for infants, sewing, crocheting and cooking typically British recipes, reinforcing a British colonial ideal of women’s role in society. Leaders of Maendeleo ya Wanawake, usually white British women or specially selected loyalist Kenyan women, were trained to reinforce Western expectations of women within the Kenyan communities. Beth showed us a questionnaire given to trainee leaders, which reinforced the importance of eating on tables rather than the ground, and of fresh flowers in the house to “please the eye”. Kenyan women were incentivised to participate in classes; by joining they could access resources for their homes, childcare, prizes, and could even become village leaders, a role which they were paid for. Beth argued that whilst these initiatives were celebrated and claimed to be providing opportunities for African women, they were undoubtedly a tactic for the social engineering and rehabilitation of women who had ties to groups involved in the Mau Mau movement.

Beth further argued that this could be seen in the signs of disengagement amongst Kenyan women which were recorded in the papers of the colonial administration. Women walked out of educational films, and resisted attempts by the Maendeleo ya Wanawake leaders to teach them songs in English only. Whilst these were mere glimpses of resistant activity, recorded in British archives, Beth explained that she hopes to find more evidence of Kenyan women’s attitudes towards these classes through oral history research in the coming year. Beth concluded by reinforcing the significance of the colonial administration’s purposeful neglect of Kenyan women’s own identities, cultures and community structures. Since independence, however, a new Kenyan-led Maendeleo ya Wanawake has thrived and now works for women’s equality.

We welcomed many new faces this week, and lively discussion was certainly sparked. Thank you again Beth for an engaging and intriguing paper, and we are glad you found it beneficial for your research!

Beth GSRN Tweet

The Gender and Sexuality Research Network will reconvene in the Spring Term – we will be posting a new programme very soon, so keep an eye on the blog and our Twitter! We hope you have all had a restful winter break, and a very Happy New Year from us all.

The Divine Queer and the Non-Divine Women: Marginalized Female Characters in Peter Shaffer’s Equus and Amadeus on Stage and on Screen – Meeting Report

We kicked off our Autumn programme this week with Hsin Hseih, who is in her fourth year of her PhD in the Film, Theatre and Television Department here at Reading, and who gave a fascinating paper based on her research on the work of Peter Shaffer. In her paper Hsin explored the idea of a “divine” queer masculinity, and the marginalisation of female bodies in Shaffer’s works, Equus and Amadeus. Hsin began by tracing the legacy of queer theatre, from the disruption of theatrical forms after the Stonewall riots, through the works of John Wilmot, Oscar Wilde, and Malcolm Scott, to the trope of the “problem” of homosexuality in mid-century works such as A Taste of Honey and Staircase. Turning to her case study of the work of Peter Shaffer, Hsin focused on the trope of two male leads in Shaffer’s work, specifically in Amadeus and Equus. She explained how often these two characters fulfilled roles loosely based on Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy; the Apollonian, more mature and ordinary man (Salieri in Amadeus and Martin in Equus) is challenged and intrigued by the often younger, Dionysian, extra-ordinary character (Alan in Equus and Mozart in Amadeus). The narratives revolve around these relationships, as the two male leads are shown engaging in highbrow “divine” talk, such as the meaning of art, or in Equus, Alan’s psychological state following his blinding of several horses. Hsin argued that throughout Equus, horses are shown as godlike, and can be seen as symbolic of a divine masculinity. In Amadeus, Mozart is seen as godlike in the way he is presented, and fulfils a similar role. The Apollonian characters’ attempts to understand the godlike Dionysian characters challenge their sense of self, as they wrestle with understanding these alternative masculinities.


Hsin’s main focus in this paper was to question the role of the marginalised women in these narratives. As she demonstrated through clips from film adaptations of these two plays, women are shown as undesirable, even repugnant, and inherently of a lower intellectual class than the protagonists (Constance in Amadeus and Jill in Equus). Their relationships with the protagonists are seen as secondary to the relationship between the two men, and in scenes in both films, are shown being openly and aggressively rejected when they attempt to seduce one of the male leads, reinforcing the centrality of the “divine queer” i.e. the core relationships of the two male leads. Hsin argued that whilst an inherent misogyny provides an easy explanation for the marginalisation and even stereotyping of Jill and Constance, a more nuanced analysis of these marginalised female bodies was needed, which prompted a lively and constructive discussion.


Thank you for kicking off the new GSRN series Hsin, and thanks to all who attended. We will be reconvening on Monday 19th November at 4pm, in Old Whiteknights House G08, with a screening of clips from Jane the Virgin, Grace and Frankie, and Black-ish, before discussing representations of aging sexuality in contemporary American television comedies, chaired by Anna Varadi. We hope to see many of you there!

Autumn 2018 Programme Announced

We are pleased to announce our programme for Autumn term 2018! We will be kicking things off next week on Monday 29th October with Hsin Hsieh’s paper “The Divine Queer and the Non-Divine Women: Marginalized Female Characters in Peter Shaffer’s Equus and Amadeus on Stage and on Screen” in OWH G12.

This will be followed on Monday 19th November with our first Screen Series: Aging Sexuality in Contemporary American Television Comedy in OWH G08. We will be watching clips from Grace and Frankie, Jane the Virgin, and Black-ish before having an informal discussion group chaired by Film, Theatre and Television’s Anna Varadi.

Finally, we will hear from Beth Rebisz from the History department, who will be presenting “The ‘Finished Products’ of Maendeleo ya Wanawake: Britain’s Attempt of Social Engineering Amongst Kenyan Women, 1952-1960” on Monday 10th December in OWH G12.

All sessions will begin at 4pm, in Old Whiteknights House (Graduate School). Please check the room number as we will be in a different room for the Screen Series. All are welcome, and registration is not required. We hope to see many of you there!


CfP: GSRN Seminar Series 2018-19

The Gender and Sexuality Research Network is now accepting abstracts for our seminar series taking place in the upcoming academic year (2018-2019)!

We are an interdisciplinary research group based at the University of Reading which provide a supportive and collaborative space for those whose work or interests include aspects of gender, sex, sexuality and the body to share ideas and stimulate discussion across disciplines. We are keen to hear from as wide a variety of perspectives as possible, welcoming the submission of abstracts from all disciplines. As it is our aim to offer an inclusive platform covering the full spectrum of gender and sexuality beyond traditional binary constructions, we encourage the submission of abstracts addressing, amongst others, issues of femininity and feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, as well work conducted from masculine and non-binary perspectives.

Our regular seminar series will start in October and is provisionally planned to take place during term time on Mondays from 4-5pm at the University of Reading. The format will be a one-hour session with space for a twenty-minute paper followed by a Q & A. We offer a supportive environment where researchers can present works in progress or finished pieces. If you would like to take part, please contact us at ReadingGenderSexuality@gmail.com and include your 250-word abstract and title, name, department and preferred seminar date in the email by the end of 30th September 2018.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Faye and Amy