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Please read these abstracts, and print out or make a note of your favourites. Abstracts will be on display at the carnival for you to peruse again.
carnival of feminist cultural activism

3-5 March 2011, York UK


Abstracts are listed in alphabetical order of family name or,

if appropriate where a group is presenting, under that name.

Thursday Workshop details: http://tinyurl.com/fcaworkshops

Full Programme for all three days: www.feminist-cultural-activism.net

^ Abdullah, Angham. Iraqi Women Write War

This paper focuses on contemporary Iraqi women’s fictions of war, focusing on significant novels about the Gulf war in the 1990s. I assess how the authors of these works represent the trauma of war and suggest that in writing war, these Iraqi women challenge attempts to marginalize women as outside of the war experience. This paper sheds light on the ways Iraqi novelists are testifying to the devastation and the agony they have witnessed over the three decades of war and bloodshed, and the paper explores the relationship between testimony and fiction. The women characters of these novels are depicted as being overwhelmed by a sense of loss and frustration. They face two types of death: the moral death represented in their long moments of waiting and the physical death of those whom they love. By means of the cries of despair they utter they give voice to the hidden trauma of all Iraqis who have suffered for three decades from war and destruction.

Biography: I was born in Mosul, Iraq in 1965 I hold a BA in Translation from the University of Mosul (1986) and an MA in English Literature/Modern Novel from the same University (1992), where I also worked for three years in the field of translation and teaching. In 1994 I left Iraq with my husband because of war and sanctions, but returned in 2007 to a post as lecturer of modern fiction at the University of Dohuk. It was here that through teaching, I discovered the necessity of unearthing the powerful fiction Iraqi women were writing about their lives under war and oppression. In 2009 began my PhD on this topic at the Centre for Women Studies, University of York.

^ Applin, Jo. Not Working

What does it mean for an artist to ‘work’, or to ‘not work’? What kind of labour is involved in the task of making a work of art? This paper analyses the various ways in which women artists engaged, challenged, reorganized and even refused the idea of work in the 1960s, at a time prior to the establishment of a formalized feminist politics to which to subscribe, and certainly before the idea of the ‘woman artist’ carried much weight either institutionally or critically. I do not take as given the fact that as women artists they should automatically be studied in isolation. On the contrary, by situating my study in the art world of 1960s New York, arguably the centre of the artistic avant-garde at that time, I will tackle head on the problems of incorporation and inclusion and the implications of this for a feminist art history. I will consider the working environment of a number of women artists and the various ways and means through which they forged, negotiated or even refused a subject position—and a voice—for themselves within the avant-garde artistic community.

Biography: Jo Applin is Lecturer in modern and contemporary art in the History of Art Department at the University of York. She is currently writing a book on Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's 1965 installation Infinity Mirror Room--Phalli's Field and beginning work on a new research project titled 'Not Working' which focuses on the work of a number of women artists working in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s.

^ Athelstan, Alexa. In the Spotlight: Queer Femininities and the Carnivalesque Embodiment of Feminist Cultural Activism

Femininity, especially when embodied by a biologically born female, has traditionally been constructed as the ultimate sign of normative gender identity, within both feminist and queer theory. It has been linked to passivity, consumerism, false consciousness and an apolitical, often even an anti feminist or anti queer, position. However, within recent writings by queer and feminist theorists we see the emergence of an alternative, or queer, form of femininity that is imbued with a feminist consciousness, agency and power, as well as a hard hitting political stance, a sassy gendered aesthetic and ironic sense of humour. Drawing on various visual cultural examples of queer femininity, this paper will trouble the assumption that femininity is synonymous with a normatively gendered and apolitical subject, by analysing how queer feminine subjects perform their feminine gender identity in a way that embodies a form of queer and feminist cultural activism. The examples that this paper will draw on include: punk cabaret musician Amanda Palmer, Jennifer Miller the famous bearded lady, Circus Amok, Radical Cheerleaders, transgender performance artist and activist Jet Moon, as well as a book of photography and ethnography by Ulrika Dahl and Del La Grace Volcano, Femmes of Power (2008). Using Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque and Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity this paper will explore how queerly feminine subjects mobilise the carnivalesque spectacle of their hyperbolic and parodic performances of femininity as a mode of cultural activism that calls attention to various feminist political issues, whilst effectively critiquing normative notions of femininity. Thus, this paper will explore the intersection between queer feminine aesthetics and activist feminist politics, in order to posit the existence of a specifically queer feminine way of doing feminist cultural activism. 

Biography: I am a PhD student at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, Leeds University. My research project focuses on analysing the gendered aesthetic and politics of queerly feminine subjects, as well as exploring the intersection between power and femininity. 

^ Aune, Kristin and Redfern, Catherine: activism and the new feminist movement

Since the start of the new millennium in the UK, an array of new feminist activities – national networks, issue-specific campaigns, local groups, festivals, magazines and blogs – have been formed by a new constituency of mostly younger women and men. Cultural activism is central to this new feminist movement, with popular culture singled out as one of several key areas requiring feminist intervention. Drawing on research conducted for the book Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement, including a survey of nearly 1,300 feminists, we will explore the contours of cultural activism in the contemporary British feminist movement. We will discuss attitudes to cultural activism and explore the variety of forms of activism people are engaging with. We will illustrate this with examples from videos, new magazines, feminist art (e.g. banners and zines) and online activism (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, blogs and webzines).

Biography: Catherine Redfern is founder of The F Word website. Now almost ten years old, the site is recognised as influential in speaking a revived interest in feminism among younger women and men. Kristin Aune is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Derby, where she teaches courses on feminism, gender and religion. Her publications include Women and Religion in the West (co-edited with S. Sharma & G. Vincett, Ashgate, 2008). Catherine and Kristin are the authors of Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement (Zed Books, 2010). They were recently named by the Guardian as two of ‘the next famous five feminists’.

^ Bailey, Catherine. Creative Nonfictional Drama as Third-Wave Feminist Narrative

This paper considers the ways in which realist and creative-nonfictional theatre contribute significantly to the advancement of third-wave feminism. My central suggestion is that staged drama has profound, untapped potential to subvert patriarchal norms by articulating a new narrative of gender egalitarianism and feminine empowerment in a way that is both honest/urgent and poetic/artistic, and is therefore doubly impactful. For far too long, women and men alike have suffered under the narrative of patriarchy, which is not only based on political inclinations, but a pervasive narrative based on deeply imbedded mythological, symbolic, historical, and cultural “truths” that posit aggression and male-dominance as natural and just. In recent decades, feminists have made a concentrated and considerable effort to secure personal and political rights for women, but have arguably not yet broadcasted an alternative cultural mythology to patriarchy – a sort of “matriarchy,” as it were – that is compelling and convincing enough to catalyze a sort of emotional, perceptional (and artistic?) revolution at the grassroots level, ushering in the new paradigm we so urgently need. I would like to suggest that theatre has the power to serve not only as a Habermasian forum for feminism’s reflection on and articulation of its fundamental narrative, but also as a mode of expressing the possibilities of its vision to a truly global audience. I will further discuss how this platform can, perhaps most influentially, stage creative nonfictional drama that is sourced from actual interviews with the marginalized and subaltern, lending a powerful voice to their situations and personal narratives, raising consciousness of their dilemmas, and blending the personal with the political, the local with the ideological. This artful framing of reality impacts us in a way that mass media or even documentary cannot, appealing both to our temporal concerns and our transcendental imaginations, and therefore more effectively summoning us to activism. Drawing from the work of playwrights Eve Ensler, Lynn Nottage, Lisa Loomer, and Caryl Churchill, mythologists Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Joseph Campbell, and Northrop Frye, and psychologists Dan McAdams and Laurence Kirmayer, I will aim to illustrate the possibilities of theatrical storytelling as a means to feminist manifesto, action, and sustainable, progressive change.

Biography: Catherine Elizabeth Bailey is a writer, artist, and activist from Seattle, USA. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in English and a Graduate Certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Rochester, NY. She has collaborated with nonprofits in several countries that focus on women’s rights, independent media, and the arts.

^ Barrett, Louise. Tallulah: sexual identity and drama
 Louise Barrett will offer a workshop and make a presentation about the work she does with TALLULAH theatre in the South West of England. Louise founded Tallulah Theatre in May of this year. The group was created with the clear aim – to offer women who identify as Lesbian, Bisexual, transgender or questioning a creative opportunity to: ‘Explore and challenge notions of sexuality – whether it be personally or in a wider cultural context through drama and performing arts’ The weekly workshops offer content that is focused upon issues surrounding sexuality and identity and are explored via drama, song and movement. The group also works towards a performance at some point each year ensuring that we celebrate and ‘come out’ to a wider audience – holding to the notion that being proud of our lives and ourselves and demonstrating this through performance, creates a pathway for others in isolation to follow and grow in confidence to.The group varies in age from 19 to 59. Some women travel for over an hour to get to the group each Thursday.
This June the group were awarded their first Arts Council grant to ensure that the group can continue for another year and also pay for travel expenses to the performances in February.

Biography: Louise Barrett is the founder (2003) and director of Pretty Good Girl Dance Theatre (www.prettygoodgirl.com) and has written, choreographed and performed in 4 full-length dance theatre productions which each took in between 40 and 85 tour dates. Louise is now working on No Fear - looking at women of courage through history. Her aim is to make work that appeals to and is accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of rural or social isolation. For the last 2 years she has been dancer in residence for North Somerset working on inclusive delivery with the Dance Action Project. This year Louise founded TALLULAH Theatre – a community theatre provision in Bristol, for women who identify as Lesbian, bisexual and transgender. The group will be performing their first show (Reading RubyFruit) at the new OUTSET LGBT theatre festival in Taunton as part of the LGBT history month and at the SISTERSHOW exhibition taking place at the Centre Space art gallery Bristol. Louise is also project coordinator for OUTSET – taking place in February at the Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton, this is Somerset’s first LGBT theatre festival.

^ Behbahani, Leyli.   Campaigning for Consciousness: Street Theatre in Tehran

I wish to present a few forms of artistic feminist activism that have been employed by Iranian feminists and women’s rights activists in Iran and the Iranian diaspora(s) since 2006. Throughout fieldwork in 2008 (Tehran) and 2010 (Los Angeles), I had the chance to learn about some of the most effective artistic strategies used by the Iran-led feminist initiatives, such as the well-known One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality. The Campaign’s goal is to collect a million signatures from Iranians in order to demand a change to the gender discriminatory laws in Iran through the kind of bottom-up pressure and grassroots involvement that will be gained by raising gender consciousness. Mingling arts and feminist activism has been at heart of innovative methods to raise consciousness around discriminatory laws and customs, and varies from mock real-situation street performances in Tehran to multimedia exhibitions in Los Angeles. I will illustrate some of these methods by referring to data gathered through in depth interviews with activists. This paper will be accompanied by pictures and/or short videos.

Biography: I was born in Tehran in 1978, and left Iran for Italy in 2001. My background is in Architecture (Iran) and International Communications (Italy), and I did a masters degree in Gender Studies at SOAS. I am currently a Ph.D. student, researching Iranian feminisms, and only recently returned from fieldwork. I have been an activist since 2009.

^ Bennett, Jen. Dolly the Carnival Pin-ata

Dolly is mother to us all. She is muted and limbless; her physical state illustrating the socio-historical state of the female in patriarchal society. Dolly is pinned with messages, some positive and some negative. These messages address different issues that women have with their engendered social roles. The messages fall into categories: in the home, relationships, physicality, motherhood, age, careers. The overarching umbrella term for all of these is ‘womanhood’. Read Dolly’s body. When you have found a message that resonates with you, remove the pin and ribbon. In this way you are undressing Dolly of her labels and taking the thorns out of her sides. Tie the ribbon around your wrist. Which ribbon will you choose? Are you honest enough (with yourself) to pick out the message that is really appropriate to your situation? Are you brave enough to wear the ribbon for all to see, or will it be hidden under a sleeve? If you do hide it, is it because you are ashamed or because you think it is nobody else’s business? Will you pick as inoffensive a text as possible to avoid embarrassment and questions from others? Will this act of self-portraiture be blunt or fictionalised? Wear the ribbon until it becomes so naturally worn that it falls off. Use your ribbon bracelet as a tangible mnemonic device, raising your consciousness every time you look at it. If you choose a positive message, use the ribbon as a comfort. If you select a negative label, use the ribbon as a prompt and a reminder that there is an issue in your life that you need to address. There is an implicit challenge; if you are wearing a negative ribbon, can you change your situation before the bracelet falls off? This starts off as a bit of fun, looking through pretty carnival-coloured ribbons, but it quickly becomes a vehicle for self-portraiture and self-diagnosis. If you choose a negative label, you will also need to self-prescribe a remedy and action it. The wearing of bracelets has steadily evolved throughout time in all cultures, appearing in various pertinent incarnations, including: binds, handcuffs, friendship bracelets, copper healing bracelets. The ribbon bracelets follow the symbolisms of innumerable cultural traditions. Today, rubber charity bracelets and ribbon pins are used to show solidarity with a cause on the part of the wearer. Dolly’s carnival colours have meaning; at first it is aesthetic, but these colours carry psychological, political and emotional meanings that vary from culture to culture. Ribbons are a symbol of sovereign or judicial power, and designate the power to bind and to be set free. Wearing the ribbon bracelet is a form of non-verbal communication, both with the outer world and the inner self. Remove Dolly’s jewellery, her costume, and label yourself. Then take this as far as you can.

Biography: Jenny Elliott-Bennett BA Hons, MA, PGCE PCET. Research interests: Feminisms, Travel Writing, Island and Sea Literature, Animal Characters in Society/Culture/Art and Anthropomorphism. For the past decade I have been working as a freelance writer, producing academic, education and commercial copy that has been published in five countries. I have also been teaching in the UK, Europe and America (EFL, England and Englishness, and English Literature), up to and including Level 6.

^ Burge, Amy. Resisting Romance? Feminist Engagements with Mills & Boon Romance Novels

Feminist critics were amongst the first to significantly engage with romance novels and continue to lead the scholarly field. However criticism has tended to veer between dismissal and condemnation of the genre and interpreting romance texts as entirely positive. Whether you consider romance novels to be ‘titillating mush’ (188), as Greer does, or share Krentz’ view that ‘they celebrate female power, intuition, and a female worldview that affirms life and expresses hope for the future’ (8) or, perhaps, Radway’s view that romance novels can be potentially resistant in their provision of pleasurable escapism, it is difficult to deny their enormous popularity.1 Mills & Boon claim to sell one book every three seconds in the UK, and publish novels in 26 different languages in 109 worldwide countries.2 This workshop will build on and explore critical reading in romance by offering the chance to engage in resistant reading and critical rewriting

of a romance novel. Each participant will receive a page from a Mills & Boon novel and an envelope containing each word from the page on separate slips of paper. During the workshop we will consider our personal reactions to popular romance (as activist, as scholars, as readers) and rearrange these words into our own writing, whether it be resistant, celebratory, reflective or purposeful. After the workshop we will share our work (anonymously if preferred) with other conference participants. You will also be able to keep the novel as a memento of the workshop. This workshop is not intended to attack romance novels or readers, but offers the opportunity to engage in a practical way with popular romance writing and to reflect on feminist scholarly critiquing and resistant reading of romance over the years.

Germaine Greer, ^ The Female Eunuch (London: Paladin, 1971); Jayne Ann Krentz (ed.), “Introduction”, Dangerous Man and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992); Janice Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill; University of North Carolina Press, 1984).

2 Mills & Boon, “Interesting Facts”, Mills & Boon.co.uk

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