Seminar Week 5

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Forever the Dark Prince of Hollywood: Walt Disney, Psychobiography and the “Practically Perfect” – Meeting Report

On Monday 9th October the Gender and Sexuality Research Network’s 2017/18 Seminar Series was kicked off by John Whitney presenting his fascinating work on psychobiography and the reading of the films of Walt Disney, in particular, Mary Poppins, the last live-action film produced with the personal involvement of Walt Disney.

John began by asking what it was that Walt Disney wanted to convey with the images of his films. With little autobiographical data existing on Disney, John demonstrated how his work could be analysed by using the theories developed within psychobiography. Using Schultz’s theory of the ‘Prototypical Scene’ and Alexander’s theories of Saliency and Springboarding, John has been able to conduct a psychobiographical analysis of the ‘Lets Go Fly a Kite’ scene towards the end of Mary Poppins, whilst reflecting on the varying, and at times contradictory, biographical materials that have been written on the life of Disney.

John’s analysis had us delving into the life of Disney, in particular, the family conflict he experienced and the relationships he held with key figures throughout his developmental period. Biographers Thomas and Moseley both detailed the close bond Disney had with Hazel George, his studio nurse, and the moment of their final goodbye. Described as an intense, and emotionally charged moment that has lead biographers to interpret the underlying relationship between them differently. Whether the relationship was one of parental replacement, or of romantic feelings, the saliency of the final goodbye renders this a definitive ‘prototypical scene.’

Next John had us considering Disney’s anxiety around his parentage, with Senora Zamora posing as a potential biological mother, and Disney’s relationship with his isolated mother Flora Call. Whilst the former figure is omitted from much of the material on Disney, Call appears distorted in the accounts, though a pervading question was asked in Mark Eliot’s highly controversial biography of Disney, ‘why didn’t his mother stop the beatings?’, the fear of his violent father, Elias, adding an important dimension to John’s psychobiography.


For John, the ‘Lets Go Fly a Kite’ scene in Mary Poppins symbolised the relationship Disney never had with his parents, in particular his father. The reformed Mr. Banks stands over his young son as the caring head of the ideal nuclear family, settling the destabilising force of the maternal figure. Through this prototypical scene, John demonstrated how Disney sought to heal his sense of absent family relations by replacing it with the familial ideal through fiction.

Thank you so much to John for his rich and insightful seminar, and thank you to everyone who joined and helped facilitate a fantastic discussion afterwards at Park House. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the seminar series, and we are looking forward to seeing you all for our next seminar on the 23rd October when myself (Faye Bird) will be presenting!


GSRN Coordinator Gareth Mills, John Whitney, and GSRN Coordinator Faye Bird.

John Whitney is a PhD Candidate and Sessional Lecturer researching at the University of Reading within the Department of Film, Theatre and Television. You can contact John via email at for any further information regarding his research.


Seminar Series Autumn 2017

women-149577_1280It’s good to welcome you all back at the start of term after a summer that has seen some fantastic developments in gender research, including the successful launch of the Gendered Voices magazine (available here:, the annual conference for the Gender and Sexuality Research Cluster, and the Postgraduate Gender Symposium back in May. We’re delighted to continue the network’s seminar series into the Autumn in a fortnightly sequence of talks running up until Christmas. All sessions take place in Edith Morley (formerly HumSS) 189, Mondays at 4-5pm. The full schedule is below.

This academic year Reading University doctoral student John Whitney will open the seminar series with a doubt fascinating look at psychobiography in the works of Walt Disney on Monday 9th October, 4-5pm, Edith Morley 189. Here is his abstract:

Psychobiography is defined as the process of discussing psychological saliency in biographical materials. The methodologies behind this technique will be extracted and used to analyse the relationships found within the life of Walter Elias Disney (his parents and his nurse Hazel George).

Leading from this, argument will be made for the psychobiographical analysis of filmic text, through a focus on his desire for a ‘perfect familial image’ and his desire for strong female influence in his life. I will argue that he processes/finds this within his filmic work: the ‘Practically Perfect’ Mary Poppins.

We look forward to seeing you then!

Gareth and Faye

Autumn Term Schedule 2017

Forever The Dark Prince of Hollywood: Walt Disney, Psychobiography and the “Practically Perfect”

9th October 2017 John Whitney, Film, Theatre and Television (Reading)  

The Jihadist and the Sex Slave: Gendering the International Discourse on ISIL 

23rd October 2017 Faye Bird, Law (Reading)  

“I’m a fucking bovine mutant”: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and the (Un)Tamed Performance of the Female Body

13th November 2017 Anna Varadi, Film, Theatre and Television (Reading)

“The Happy Creatoress”: Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) and the Burdan of Womanhood

27th November 2017 Molly Bridges, English Literature (Birmingham)

Call for Papers: Volume 9 of the Language Studies Working Papers

The University of Reading’s Language Studies Working Papers has issued a call for papers for the publication of volume 9 which many of our network followers may be interested in. The editors of the LSWP, Sophie Payne (who just happens to be founder and former coordinator of our very own GSRN!) and Roopa Leonard have emailed the follow call and are hoping to hear from as many different departments as possible:

We are now inviting PhD students to submit a paper for Volume 9 of the Language Studies Working Papers, to be published in April 2018. The LSWP is based in the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, but we are very keen to accept papers from all departments at the University of Reading that offer a perspective on language-related research in the following broadly-defined areas: 

– academic literacy
– discourse and sociolinguistics
– phonetics and phonology
– child language development
– second language skills and processing
– clinical studies
– Italian studies
– German studies
– French studies
– Spanish studies

The deadline for the submission of papers is Monday 6th November 2017. Please contact us ( as soon as you can if you are considering submitting a paper, as well as if you want to discuss whether the format of your research material is appropriate for the LSWP.

Please see the variety of interesting papers that have been submitted over the years by visiting our website and scrolling to the bottom of the page where you can access the tables of contents and uploaded papers for Volumes 1-8:

Submissions may include any unpublished work, such as papers based on presentations given at departmental conferences, as well as research work in progress which relates either to a research project or your thesis. Submissions do not have to be in the form of a complete study, as they may also relate to the various stages of your PhD work, i.e., a summary of your Literature Review, early findings, or a more in-depth discussion of your results.

All submissions should be unpublished and be entirely written by their author(s). Manuscripts will be anonymously peer-reviewed by staff and students specialising in the relevant field of study.

Papers should be emailed to the Editors ( as a .doc attachment. The maximum length allowed – including notes and references – is approximately 5,000 words. A 200-word abstract summarising the content of the paper should be included after its title. Also include the author’s full name and name(s) of supervisor(s), course details and address, as well as a short biographic note in the accompanying email.

Many thanks again and we look forward to receiving your submissions!

Very best wishes,

The Editors (Sophie Payne and Roopa Leonard)

Call for Papers: Present your research at the GSRN’s Seminar Series 2017/18!

The Gender and Sexuality Research Network is now accepting abstracts for our seminar series taking place in the upcoming academic year (2017-2018).

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, LGBT+ rights, as well work conducted from masculine and non-binary perspectives.

Our regular seminar series will start the first week of 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 and include your 100-word abstract and title, name, department and preferred seminar date in the email by the end of 11th August 2017.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Faye and Gareth

Twitter: @ReadingGender

A welcome from the new network organisers

GSRN double mugshot faye and gareth


It gives me great pleasure to introduce myself and Faye bird as the next organisers of the Gender and Sexuality Research Network. I discovered the Research Network late in 2016 after Sophie and Maria had been running things for three years and encountered a community of dedicated graduates and lecturers who had clearly established something special. We’re all in their debt for founding this fantastic network.

We will be carrying on the seminar series, starting Autumn Term 2017, so check your inboxes for our announcement this week! Last year, alongside a complement of high quality presentations that demonstrated research from a feminine perspective, such as ‘Women’s Employment in Saudi Arabia’ (Mona Almunaiey), papers such as Jacob Bird’s ‘Deconstruction of the Voice in Drag Lip Sync’ bought non-binary and masculine perspectives to the series, something we are keen to continue.

Expect continued notifications of events on social media, and get in touch with us on Twitter @ReadingGender

We look forward to taking part in another year of important work in Gender Studies.

Gareth & Faye

Goodbye and thank you for all your support!

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Celebrating the success of the network at our very last meeting of 2016/7


Sophie and I (Maria) are pleased to announce that Faye Bird and Gareth Mills will be taking over the running of the Gender and Sexuality Research Network in the upcoming academic year. We are confident that we are leaving the network in safe hands!

We founded the network back in late 2014. We have gone from one meeting per month with local Reading students to weekly meetings with speakers from all over the UK! We have really enjoyed running the network and watching it grow.

We would like to thank everyone for their support! We could not have made the network what it is today without our attendees and fantastic speakers.

Here’s to another successful year of the Gender and Sexuality Research Network!

Signing off from the blog for the very last time,