Seminar Meeting report 14/01 “Gender and Knowledge of Terrorism in Palestine”


Thanks to everyone who attended Carl Gibson’s talk on his fieldwork in Palestine. It was fascinating to hear about his varied experiences with interviewing local people and the information he has gathered from doing so. Carl discussed the difficulty in defining the word ‘terrorism’ and the varying use of the word in the Western and Arab media. He has discovered that media and internet discourse on terrorism is highly gendered. He noted that there is much more written about the lives of female terrorists and their motivations than on male terrorists. The sources mentioned often linked the women’s involvement with terrorism to a trauma in their past, such as the death of a child, rather than to political motivations. Yet, Carl suggested there was more of a taboo around these female terrorists as almost all of the posters he has spotted in Palestine were of male martyrs (شهيد/ shahid) rather that female ones (شَهِيدَة/ shahida).One woman in particular, named Hadeel al-Haslamun  has featured on the occasional poster, despite it being unclear whether her refusal to remove her niqab at the Palestine Israeli border was for political reasons.

The discussion after Carl’s paper revolved around the escalation of violence in Palestine and women’s involvement in such violence. We also debated why in war women and children are treated as victims and men often are not and why how this linked to a lack of  biographical information on the internet about male terrorists. As well as discussing the lives of the shahida in more depth, we also discussed the practicalities of Carl’s research in such a dangerous part of the world. It was clear that his many years of living in Palestine were vital to his success in finding interviewees and conducting his research successfully. We wish him all the best for his return to Palestine at the end of the week!


Seminar Meeting Report 03/12 “The Realm of Goddesses in Ancient Mesopotamia”


Monica Palmero Fernandez’s insightful paper introduced us to the ancient land of Mesopotamia (Iraq and Syria in the modern day) and the significance of goddesses in the cultural context of this society. She provided us with various visual representations of the goddesses which included drawings of these figures in human, symbolic, and animal form. Monica explained the complex gender identity of the gods and goddesses, stating that the same gods/goddesses were sometimes represented as male in one depiction and female in another. Their sexualities were also complex and did not reflect sexual norms in Ancient Mesopotamia. Monica connected the powers attributed to the goddesses by the ruling elite to the power structures this elite wished to enforce in the society they governed. For example, kings would write poems declaring their relationships to various deities throughout their lives in order to legitimate their royal status. She ended her paper by discussing the complexities of grappling with her methodological approach to written and visual depictions of the goddesses, which included looking at intersectionality and queer theory.

After her paper, the discussion centered around the role of elite women in male dominated Mesopotamian society, the link between the goddesses and nature, as well as the lack of sources describing the lives of members of society at the lower end of the hierarchy. Furthermore, Monica explained the difficulty in determining the gender of these goddesses from the Sumerian language because it does not have masculine and feminine pronouns or articles.

Maria and Sophie would like to thank Monica for her delightful paper and everyone else who attended our final seminar of 2015. We hope to see you next year for our very first paper which will take place on Thursday 14th January. It will be presented by Carl Gibson from the Politics and International Relations department. He will be providing us an insight into his fieldwork in Palestine.

Have a wonderful winter break!

Seminar Meeting Report, 26th Nov

The paper this week was given by Yanos Soubieski, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Politics and International Relations, titled: “What’s Wrong with Marxist Feminism? An Althusserian Alternative”. We had a great turnout and a real range of questions in the discussion.


The first half of Yanos’s presentation was centred around criticisms of Marxist feminism. Feminist readings of Marx identify the relations of dominance and abuse that (can) develop from a division of men into the public sphere of production and women into the private sphere of reproduction, that is, producing and raising either female children, who can then also reproduce, or male children, who can enter the workforce, once they have become adults. By being limited from entering the sphere of production, women’s earning potential is severely reduced and they are put into a relationship of dependency on men. Within readings like this, sex antagonisms are reducible to class antagonism caused by the phenomena of private property in capitalism. Yanos highlighted how this is inadequate for understanding patriarchy (loosely understood as a society characterised by male domination over women), because women occupy a lower position according to men in all classes, meaning that dynamics of relations between men and women must be operating independent of, at least to some extent, economic factors. Additionally, patriarchy can be found in non-capitalist societies, such as pre-capitalist societies, and supposedly post-capitalist societies such as in the Soviet Union.

To address these criticisms, Yanos put forward the alternative theory that he is developing in light of recently (2014) published manuscripts from Louis Althusser, a Structural Marxist who was writing most prolifically in the 1970s. Althusser, while not looking at patriarchy, develops a theory of subject formation which lessens the economic determinism in traditional readings of Marx. What we understand as society is a composite formation of different structures, such as the media, the school, the family, each of which attempts to maintain its own stability through ideological interpellation. We become subjects (that is, who we understand ourselves to be) through our recognition of ourselves in relation to an external Other. In a crude summary of Althusser’s example, when a policeman hails us out on the road and we turn around, we have become a subject because we have realised that the policeman is talking to us and that we are obliged, through our relationship with the policeman, to listen to him and turn around. Yanos identifies the family structure as the primary location of subject formation, as we are interpellated as subjects by our parents and the rest of the family before we are even born. This is a crucial point for Yanos’s application of Althusser to patriarchy, because sex plays a key role in subject formation of a new child, such as the name chosen, the pronouns used to describe the child, without even going into clothing, toys and the decoration of the nursery.

A range of points were brought up in the discussion, such as Vicky, an external visitor from Cardiff, sharing her personal experience from Cuba. Cuba is ostensibly a Communist country, but still has prevalent sexism and sex divisions, which backs the criticism of Marxist feminism that sex antagonisms operate in a different way to class antagonisms. Dr Andreas Behnke highlighted that woman and men are not so clearly divided as they once were, with women visible and active in the workforce. Yanos countered this with the observation that women still suffer from inequality, being on average paid less, occupying a minority of high-level positions and occupying a majority of part-time and other precarious job roles compared to men. Patriarchy continues to have a strong presence in the ordering of society, despite the decades of protest and efforts for change for women. A subsequent more general Marxist response to this would also be that a solution is not to open up the exploitative capitalist workplace to women as well as men, but to remove the exploitative structure in the first place.

We thank Yanos for giving his paper and engaging with the discussion afterwards. The next seminar will be on Thursday 3rd December at 1-2pm in G09, given by Monica Palmero Fernandez of Archaeology on “The Realm of Goddesses in Ancient Mesopotamia”. We look forward to seeing you there!

“What is Wrong with Marxist Feminism? Taking the Economics out of Marx” 26th November

Our next meeting will take place on November 26th at 1pm in G09 at the Graduate School. The paper on the interaction between Marxism and Feminism will be presented by Yanos Soubieski from the department of Politics and International Relations.

Here is his abstract:

Karl_Marx_001Marxist Feminism as it stands strictly perceives patriarchy, a society characterised by male domination over women, in terms of capitalism. Marxist Feminism focuses specifically on the roles that capitalism designates to women in the production process and the harmful implications this has. Marx’s own analysis of capitalism was not as economically rigid as this would have us believe, with terms like alienation, exploitation and ideology all owing their theoretical rigour to Marx. My research is predicated on taking the economics out of Marxian analysis in the context of patriarchy. I shall do this by applying the Althusserian theory of ideology to understand the reproduction of patriarchy. I thus aim to provide a new form of Marxist Feminism contrary to the economistic variant which has survived for so long.

We look forward to seeing you there! We are hoping to see many of you from the politics department but also from other disciplines too.

“Why is housing more important to female satisfaction than male satisfaction?” 22nd October


Thanks to everyone who attended October’s Gender and Sexuality Network meeting!

And… to Chris Foye, of course, for his fascinating paper!

For the first time we were treated to a paper by a PhD student from a non Humanities background. Chris Foyes’ paper examined a data set from Germany and drew conclusions on the relationship between gender and the importance of housing. For example, he drew parallels between the importance of housing for men with or without children, stating that the former considered housing to be far more important than the latter. For women, however, there was no change in their attitudes to their home when they became mothers. His paper lead to a series of questions about the role of a woman’s age in her satisfaction towards her house and also whether marital status was an important factor. The organisers of this group, Maria and Sophie, also questioned whether sexuality played any role in the importance people assign to their housing. We were unsurprised that data from the 90s did not include any statistics on this. Yanos Soubieski, who will be presenting at our next meeting on the 26th November, asked whether attitudes towards housing in the former East and West Germany had reflected the historical changes in the two regions. Chris responded that this was a very interesting question and that he would bear this in mind in the chapter upon which his thesis is based. Cultural comparisons were also made between German, English, Greek, French, and Arabic speaking nations. The audience offered their personal experiences of the ways in which male family members’ attitudes towards their home environment differed from female family members’ attitudes. According to the attendees’ experiences, it often seemed to be the case that the men viewed their houses more in terms of an investment than did the women, putting less emphasis on the  appearance of the inside of the house than the women.

We are now looking forward to Yanos’ paper What’s wrong with Marxist Feminism? Taking the economics out of Marx” on the 26th November 1-2pm in the Graduate School. Look out for the abstract!

The new term is upon us! Come join us on 22nd October from 1-2pm

Hello everyone!

We hope you all had a wonderful summer and feel rested for the new term.

We have now finalised our speakers for the first term of this year. We look forward to seeing you at our three talks from PhD students from three different departments! We are indeed very pleased with our multi-disciplinary programme and we hope to have attendees from a variety of academic disciplines.

And now to our first event… It will take place on October 22nd from 1-2pm in G09 at the Graduate School. We hope to see you all there!

The paper will be presented by Chris Foye from the School of Real Estate and Planning.

Title: “Why is housing more important to female satisfaction than male satisfaction?” This paper is concerned with how the relationship between housing and well-being varies according to gender. By examining the German Socio-Economic Panel study (GSOEP), it demonstrates that women attach greater importance to housing as a life domain than men. Hypotheses are advanced that attribute this gender gap to gender differences in i) personality and ii) values. First, personality. By referring to a wide range of literatures including affordances, social role theory and gendered meanings of home- the paper proposes that women rely more on housing as a source of identity and social status, whilst men rely on housing as a source of economic status. Second, values. It is demonstrated that there is strong relationship between the women and the home in societal discourse leading women to assume the aesthetics and atmosphere of the home as their responsibility. Further examination of the GSOEP suggests gender differences in both personality and values may mediate gender differences in the subjective importance of housing.

Gender Identity in the Mosaics of Roman Spain: 28th May

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Lucy giving her paper

Thank you to everyone who attended the gender and sexuality research network meeting yesterday. It was a very inter-disciplinary group who came along to see Lucy’s paper on the mosaics in Roman Spain. We had attendees from archeology, politics, philosophy, modern languages and even business studies! Everyone engaged with Lucy’s fascinating presentation on the representation of masculinity in the beautiful mosaics on which she is basing her research. I (Maria) particularly liked the anthropological angle Lucy is taking on these mosaics by questioning for whom these mosaics were commissioned and what message the owners were trying to portray to those who saw them. We had a lively discussion after Lucy’s paper about the mosaics which included suggestions from those present who study politics for Lucy to consider some discourse theory as a way of interpreting the mosaics. We considered the significance of where these mosaics were placed in the Spanish villas and who witnessed them; whether it be the esteemed guests of the owners or their servants who washed the floors.

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Drinks after the meeting

The discussion continued in the pub on campus afterwards. We discussed Lucy’s paper and some ideas about how to build on the success of the Gender and Sexuality Research Network during the next academic year. Watch this space!

Thanks again to everyone who attended and in particular Lucy for coming all the way from Bristol to give her insightful paper. Yesterday’s meeting was the last of this academic year. We look forward to seeing you all again in the Autumn Term. If you would like to present a paper next year please contact us and we will book you in. Keep your eyes on the blog as we may be posting articles from time to time on gender and sexuality. If you would like to contribute a piece, please contact us.

Bye for now! Have a great summer!