Meeting Report: ‘Surviving the English Civil Wars as a Widow’, 20th February, by Hannah Worthen


Hello everyone!

Thank you again to Hannah Worthen for her really interesting talk about widows in England during the 17th century. Thanks also to everyone who attended. It was great to see some more new faces.

Hannah started off her talk in a very novel way by showing us a tweet she had written as part of a challenge to summarise a thesis in less than 140 characters. It read: “Discovering the petitions of Early Modern War Widows in order to better understand women, war and survival throughout history.”

Hannah outlined the profound impact of the civil wars by stating that 7% of the population of England, Wales, and Scotland died between 1642 and 1651 due to fighting in the civil wars as compared with only 0.7% during World War 2. Hannah spoke to us about a variety of primary sources in which widows are represented including pamphlets and petitions (see images on her power point in the photo above). Society viewed widows both as objects of pity but also as a threat since their newfound single status would permit them to sponge off rich bachelors. In addition, they were sometimes viewed as sexually deviant!

Hannah began her documentary analysis by providing some examples of sources in which widows were portrayed by men who were either royalists or parliamentarians. Some of these documents were created in order to highlight the cruelty of the other side. One royalist, B. Ryves, tries to demonstrate the nepotism in parliament by writing that the widows were crying outside parliament whilst subsidies were given to others who were less impoverished. Hannah added that during the civil wars, it was common to find characterisations of England as a widow.

Hannah’s main focus, however, was on the petitions with which women applied either for pensions or for land to be returned to them. These petitions were usually written by scribes who were either relatives or literate members of the parish such as priests. Parish members were often keen to help widows so that they were less of a financial burden to the local community. Hannah explained that the petitions were normally written in the third person and are rather formulaic. Certain phrases crop up repeatedly. For example, many write that they are living off “borrowed bread” and list a number of small children (the word “small” being key) who are now hungry. Hannah provided us with three fascinating case studies of widows from Kent who had applied either for the return of their land or for a pension. My favourite example was Mary Blaithwaite whose husband died fighting for parliament. To fit in with the image of a widow as an object of pity, she refers to a parable in the Bible and uses highly emotive language. After little success with her manuscript, she decided to go to print. Mary Blaithwaite even sent a rather ominous letter to Oliver Cromwell which essentially informs him that he should take pity on her because he would want his wife to be protected if he ever died.

The enthusiasm expressed by our audience during the Q and A was a testament to Hannah’s really fascinating research. If you would like to find out more, follow Hannah on twitter @HannahWorthen

We look forward to seeing you for our talk next week on the female grotesque. It will take place at the different time of 3pm, in a different room HumSS 144




Next meeting, 6th Feb: ‘Women’s Employment and Empowerment in Saudi Arabia’, 4-5pm, HumSS280

Hello everybody!

Our next talk is on the 6th February and will be delivered by Mona Almunaiey. Mona is from the Politics and International Relations department here at Reading. Mona will be talking to us about the institutionalisation of patriarchal norms in the Saudi labour market.  We will be in the usual place, HumSS280, at the usual time, 4pm.

Here is Mona’s abstract:

Despite the accelerated development of Saudi Arabia since the oil boom in the 1970s, Saudi women were entirely marginalised from economic participation. Women slowly infiltrated the labour market, albeit only in the education and medical sectors, as well as gender segregated bank facilities. Gradually, the situation improved since 2009 when the government started a series of legal reforms to expand women’s participation in the labour market permitting and promoting women’s employment in all other sectors.

 Paradoxically, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ranks as the worst Arab country in women’s economic participation (the third worst country in the world) according to the gender gap index of 2016. This research argues that this discrepancy is a consequence of legal institutionalisation of patriarchal norms in the Saudi labour market, hence impeding the expansion of Saudi women’s employment.

We look forward to seeing you on Monday!

‘Becoming (S)he: Deconstruction of The Voice in Drag Lip-syncing performance’ – Meeting Report

Hello, hello, hello! (in the voice of RuPaul)

Well, what a fantastic crowd we had for Jacob Bird’s talk on lip-syncing during drag performances. Thanks to everyone for coming and showing your enthusiasm. Rightly so, seeing as Jacob’s paper was very dynamic and engaging. It was fascinating to hear Jacob’s own insights as a drag performer as well as his recounting the interviews he has conducted with other drag queens (one, for example, sees his drag alter ego as his therapist). As a huge fan of drag myself, but also as an academic, I was interested to see how drag and theory could be brought together.

Jacob (aka as Dinah Lux) informed us that lip-syncing has been understudied since it is often perceived in a pejorative light. He announced his intention to prove to us that it is actually much more than just moving your lips in time to a song – and he did!  Jacob argues that lip-syncing is a method of self-actualisation both for the performer and the audience. By lip-syncing along to the songs of artists such as Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Natalie Cole who have experienced adversity from which they have then bounced back, drag queens can find their own sense of courage and perform their agency. Jacob eloquently stated that, in this way, lip-syncing is a “silent phenomenon of gaining voice”. Drag queens can construct their own identities through identifying with others. Jacob examined the drag queen’s identification with the other through the theories of some of the greatest minds of our time (see photo above): Michel Foucault, Friedrich Kittler, Jacques Lacan (in particular his theory of the mirror stage) and RuPaul. RuPaul tells us that “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag”. (An aside: this quote has been a way for me, during teaching a module on surrealism, of discussing how artists such as Claude Cahun and Marcel Duchamp evoke the constructed nature of gender identity through art.)

There was a very lively Q and A after Jacob’s talk. We questioned whether drag was misogynist or feminist. We also discussed RuPaul’s Drag Race and how it only really shows one side of drag. The drag queens on the show mostly try to look very feminine or “fishy”, whereas there is so much more to drag than looking like a woman. Other drag queens, for example, jostle gender identities by displaying both feminine and masculine characteristics. We continued the conversation at Park House where Jacob revealed that Dinah had impressed RuPaul herself by jumping into the splits during the UK Drag Ambassador competition. Wow!

We’d like to thank Jacob once more for the wonderful talk. If you’d like to hear more about Jacob’s research and experiences as Dinah do check out her TedTalk:

We look forward to seeing you next week for our talk on women’s employment and empowerment in Saudi Arabia.


Report by Maria Tomlinson


Meeting Report: ‘Investigation of Gendered discourses on Twitter about Saudi Women’s Issues’ 14th November

One of Lubna’s presentation slides: Saudi Women and Social Change

Thank you to all of you who attended Lubna Bahamman’s talk today – it was great to see so many of you! Lubna’s paper was a wonderful insight into how Saudi women are represented on Twitter either by themselves or by men. She highlighted the popularity of Twitter in Saudi Arabia and revealed that the majority of users were in their twenties. She also set the tone of her paper by emphasising the misconceptions of Saudi women’s freedoms and lives that are often all too evident in the Western Press.

After providing some context about Saudi Arabia and its laws, in particular those that came into force post 2001, Lubna gave two particular hashtags as an example of the linguistic research she is undertaking. These were: (in translation from Arabic) #newtravelcontrolsforSaudiwomen and #onethirdofSaudiwomenarespinsters. She focused on the first hash tag and explained how a piece of news about women needing the permission of their guardians to renew their passports was misappropriated into an argument about women being allowed to travel on their own. She explained that 63.8% of tweets using the hashtag were by profiles claiming to be women. She also outlined that women were most likely to use laughter and emoticons in the tweets and men were more likely to quote from religious texts. One tweet Lubna showed us was written by a 50 year old woman who was protesting the fact that she is not allowed to travel abroad to medical conferences without her young son’s permission (as her guardian).

Our Q and A included a discussion about women’s opportunities in Saudi Arabia and where such debates about women’s rights took place before Twitter. Lubna highlighted the revolutionary nature of the space Twitter has provided for Saudi men and women because it is it is accessible to them both. Before Twitter, the only place where women could debate such issues with men was within their families.

Thanks again to all who attended and especially to Lubna!

See you next week for a talk on ‘Syrian Men and the Humanitarian Response to the Refugee Crisis in Jordan’ by Lewis Turner from the Politics department at SOAS.


Meeting Report: ‘Motherhood at the Centre: Connecting Creativity and Reproduction in Käthe Kollwitz’s Artistic Practice’

We’d like to thank Elizabeth Kajs for coming all the way from Bristol to our network meeting today. It was wonderful to hear a bit more about Elizabeth’s research and how it has progressed since she presented at the Gendered Spaces symposium in May (organised by the Gender and Sexuality cluster).

Elizabeth contextualised Kollwitz’s art in the political climate of late 19th and early 20th century Germany. She explained that women were seen as the guardians of tradition, were expected to behave passively, as well as assuming the role of the nurturing mother. Kollwitz’s art subverted these ideals of the 3rd Reich and protested against the poor conditions in which the proletariat lived. Elizabeth highlighted the controversial nature of Kollowitz’s art in her portrayal of subject matter such as unwanted pregnancy and domestic abuse. Kollwitz explored these issues in the lives of the working class and took inspiration from the medical records kept by her husband who was a doctor.

The Q and A included a discussion on the reaction of the Third Reich to Kollwitz’s work, its dissemination (such as in a pro abortion pamphlet), the artistic movement into which she fitted best (Elizabeth explained that Kollwitz didn’t fit into any specific tradition but shared some tendencies with naturalism), and her aiding progressive movements through her art (such as drawing an image of a pregnant impoverished woman which was used in a pamphlet produced by an anti-abortion campaign).

Thanks again to everyone to coming along to yet another fascinating paper. We’ll see you next time on the 14th November for Lubna Bahamman’s paper on Saudi Women on twitter.


Report by Maria Tomlinson

Next meeting, ‘Embodied Online to Offline Interactions: New Media and Body Practices in Urban Space’ – 24th October (4-5pm)

We are delighted to announce our next meeting. Brace yourselves… they are starting to come thick and fast now! On Monday 24th October at 4pm in Humss 280 Phevos Kallitsis, from the Architecture department at Portsmouth University, will be giving a talk about his research on new media and body practices in the Urban Space.

We hope to see you all again next week, for what is sure to be a fascinating talk. Phevos will be presenting Grinder from an architectural point of view – intriguing!

Here is Phevos’ abstract:

Sexuality was traditionally connected with the private, an element questioned outside the heteronormative boundaries, with groups being excluded both from public and private spaces. Men seeking sex with men practices historically blurred this binary distinction. Once the digital media of communication offered new means of communication, and people took advantage of them changing the perception of geographical space. The paper presents a series of observations about the interrelation of public and private based Grinder users’ profiles and geographical distribution within the city of Portsmouth – looking on how those avatars are embodied somewhere in the city and its interconnection of digital grids and city maps.

See you Monday!

P.S we only have one remaining place in the Spring term for a paper – so if you’d like to present please inform either Sophie or Maria as soon as possible

Is Jealously a Good Reason to Pursue Sexual Monogamy? Report: 17th October

Well, that was a very controversial seminar indeed! Thanks to all who attended – was fantastic to see such a packed room.

Nick’s talk on jealousy and monogamy was intriguing -certainly a different tone from our previous papers. He was very keen to outline his personal vision for humankind – that of a world without monogamy. His passion was clearly evident in his enthusiastic delivery. Nick argued the merits of non-monogamous relationships and discussed the role which jealousy can play in monogamous relationships. He questioned whether this feeling could be managed through partaking in non-monogamous relationships. He even delighted us with some personal anecdotes about Grinder (nicely leading us into our talk next week)!

After Nick’s paper we had our most lively debate yet! Members of the audience asked Nick whether he had considered the feminist arguments and the role of society in promulgating certain gendered stereotypes. He was also asked what he believed the role pornography has played in defining sexual relationships. We also asked him to consider his argument from an LGBT perspective.

We wish Nick the best of luck with his project!