The Talking Bodies conference has now drawn to a reluctant close *sob* But luckily, it seems like there is a Talking Bodies 2014 on the horizon. We can't wait!
Final highlights from the last few panels of the event include:
Marjolein Van Bavel (University College London, UK) "Why would it be false if you're ok with it?" The Experiences of Nude Models Since the 1980s and a Historical Perspective on Sexualisation Debates
"The question of women's often difficult relationships with their bodies has been one of the most widely debated issues of recent decades, both in the social sciences and the public sphere, mainly through the language of 'body image'. However the majority of work in this field does not critically address the dominance of the body image paradigm, which can in fact be limiting and counterproductive both to understanding and treating these troubled bodies." This session addressed the limitations of 'body image' as a concept and the possibilities for creating a new vocabulary that would better explain and describe the material and discursive complexity of women's relationships to their bodies, through an exploration of the experiences of female nude models.
Elliot Evans (Kings College London, UK) Décapiter La Philosophie: The Destabilised Philosophical Subject in Beatriz Preciado
This talk considered the 'disembodied voice' of the philosopher or theorist - a voice whose universality can erase individual corporeality and corporeal difference (an issue particularly problematic for theorists considering trans and queer experiences). Elliot asked how we, as theorists, can write about the body as other than object or metaphor and used the work of Beatriz Preciado to try and answer this question. Elliot argued that Preciado sets herself the task of bringing the body back into theory, by making her own body the 'rat de laboratoire' in her book Testo Junkie, which discusses her self-experimentation with testosterone.
Violet Rose (Independent practitioner), My Body For Sale: Sex Worker Representations and Identity
"As other social justice movements gain human and employment rights for marginalised groups, sex workers remain silenced from all sides in the face of increasing legislation, social stigma and media intrusion. Our bodies, still conceptualised as for sale to the highest bidder, represent our performance, art, political ideology and personalities. Our presences within the queer and academic worlds are still othered and our unique perspectives within intersectional feminism mostly ignored." This session discussed the way in which the bodies of sex workers depict their own sexualities, and how their work enriches and/or conflicts with their own personal sexualities. These ideas stemmed from Violet's own personal project exploring asexuality and consent/non-consent within my identity as a queer femme sex worker.
Final thought: THANK YOU to Emma Rees for organising such a brilliant event!
FINAL final thought (!): How can we increase accessibility of Talking Bodies conferences and papers?
A great start to the second day of Talking Bodies. Think it's safe to say that we were all wowed by Caitlin Fisher's talk and performance piece around constructing and inhabiting the female football body. What an awesome session! More on the talks from today:
Cathy L. Draine (Brandeis University & Emerson College) Beyond Desire: The Use of Sex Positive Performance Techniques as HIV/AIDS Intervention Strategy Among African American Women
This session talked about how acknowledging and being explicit about sexual activity, and focusing on the HIV virus rather than demonising the body, are key in efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS. In particular, Cathy focused on the use of sex positive theatre techniques as a way to combat HIV/AIDS transmission amongst African American women, in a sex positive way. She argued that approaching sexuality and sexual intercourse in an affirmative manner would increase the likelihood of this community receiving messages and instruction that could help save lives.
Harriet Long (Independent Scholar, Belfast) Recovering and Re-membering the Body
Much gender and feminist theory disregards theology and religion as oppressive a patriarchal. This talk suggested a multi-disciplinary consideration of the experiences of gender and sexual minorities, contemporary oppression theory, a gendered analysis of violence and the pervading influence of spirituality, religion and theology upon the body. It also argued that "the dignity and flourishing of the Body require a theological recovery and re-memberin" and that the body itself is a theological site, "a site of revelation, personhood and dignity with the potential to liberate and transform both the Bodies of the oppressors and the oppressed."
Caitlin D. Fisher (The Gender Hub, LSE) Body Projects: Making, Remaking and Inhabiting the Female Football Body
In this absolutely fantastic talk-come-performance piece, Caitlin presented one part of her ethnographic project exploring shifts taking place around gender norms in Brazil within the context of the nation's rapid economic expansion. Caitlin argued that changes taking place within Brazilian women's football serve as a microcosm of greater change occurring within Brazilian society. She claims that, whilst it may appear that acceptance of women in football is growing, a new form of constraint is being imposed on the female footballer's body: namely that of "hyperfeminisation" within the women's game. As such, "'progress' within women's football - and the nation - is rife with contradictions, ambiguities and illusions."
An interesting question arising: Is Sex Segregation in Sport Necessary?
An afternoon of excellent talks draws to a close. The end of the first day of Talking Bodies 2013 was marked with a particularly taxing, and pleasantly competitive (!) feminist pub quiz. Alas, we weren't to be part of the winning team, but luckily the quality of the talks this afternoon far outweighed our quizzical dismay!
Again, we can't comment on all of the sessions, but amongst the most memorable for us were:
Miriam Walsh (Mary Immaculate College, Ireland) Tale as Old as Time: The Importance of Beauty to the Construction of Female Identity in Traditional and Modern Fairy Tales
In this session, Miriam explored the classic Disney characters of Cinderella and her wicked stepmother, as a paradigm for the equivalent binary oppositions that also operate in modern interpretations of the text. She explored how 'a girl learns that stories happen to "beautiful" women', whether they are interesting or not - and do not happen to interesting women who are not "beautiful." She concluded that despite the exaltation of beauty in both fairy tales and society, it ultimately positions the female in a patriarchal carousel and the entrapment of the "beauty myth" ensures that there are no winners.
Cassandra A. Ogden (University of Chester, UK) The Fluidity of the Body: Leaking, Seeping and Social Disgust
This really engaging talk looked at how bodies that find controlling bodily fluids difficult or impossible are often met with repulsion and exclusion - and yet paradoxically only do in public what every body does in private. Cassandra claimed that when the media attempt to grapple with issues of leakiness (e.g. when trying to sell sanitary products or contraceptives) a lack of direct, frank discussion is apparent and euphemisms are rife. She suggested that this silencing of corporeality can lead to suppression of those whose bodies are difficult to control; and also discussed how 'othered' realities can challenge normalising, ableist discourses and remind the rest of society of their corporeal existence.
Zahra Stardust (University of Sydney, Australia) Defying Objectification: Beauty, Parody, Activism and the Body Within the Sex Industry
Making use of interviews she conducted with sex workers, strippers, pole dancers, burlesque artists, and queer performers in Sydney, Zahra highlighted how perceptions of sex workers as objectified, degraded, passive and fake do not fit with workers' own understandings and material practices. "Sex industry workers have our own experiential, sentient understandings of sexism and stigma, and have individual diverse relationships with beauty, femininity, performativity and stereotype. We negotiate these through parody, reclamation and re-signification and use the body as a site for activism - sharing queer and feminist paradigms between each other, audiences and the public."
Something to chat about: Can we understand sex work as, in itself, queer?
(And here, perhaps we can understand 'queer' in the broader sense of defying norms, ideals and boundaries - rather than strictly in terms of LGBT politics)
What an excellent programme of events this is turning out to be. Unfortunately we couldn't go to every panel - though we would have liked to! Of the sessions we attended, highlights have included:
Bonnie Kneen (University of Pretoria, South Africa) Neither Bi Nor Particularly Sexual: The Problem With Bisexual Desire in Young Adult Fiction
In this session Bonnie examined the representation of sexual desire in the bisexual protagonists of four recent young adult novels. She concluded that, in these novels, bisexual desire is desexualised, or, alternatively, the specifically sexual desires of bisexual characters are focussed on only one sex, even when such characters express romantic interest in people of different sexes. She argues that such desexualisation and monosexualisation of bisexuality reinforces the belief that bisexuality does not exist, and that this belief underpins the very bisexual invisibility and erasure that novels with bisexual protagonists ostensibly resist.
Karina Quinn (La Trobe University, Australia) Out-Law Genres and Literatures of Resistance: The Queer and Fictocritical Body in Creative Practice
"When Helene Cixous told me to 'write your self. Your body must be heard', the only thing I could do was answer. The only thing I could do was to take this queer body and inscribe it with text; to make new lines, to create a different space. To write fictocritically is to sing, to speak to theory and hear its echoes, is to push myself into a narrowing place and require an opening out. The fictocritical body is already an out-law (genre be damned): it insists on being written, on writing, on leaving more than traces on a page."
Rene Kaiser (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands) 'Queerupting Coming Out: Plastifying Sexual Identity and Emerging Tactics of Body-Inscription and Activism
By means of Rene's small-scale social science study, this session drew upon the emerging concept of plasticity (coined by the French philosopher Catherine Malabou) and applied it to 'coming out'. Plasticity threads together theories of Heideggerian authenticity, Foucauldian transsubjectivation and Butlerian ideas of effective critique. Rene spoke about identity activism centred on the queer community and how ideas of sexual identity translate into activism and vice-versa.
Key theme for discussion: Does the use of (even institutionalisation of) the term 'queer' undermine the idea of 'queerness' as resistant to categorisation?
We simply can't wait to get going with the really interesting themes that are going to be covered at the conference this week. So, we thought we'd get the ball rolling with some pre-emptive conversation starters...
Some of the sessions we're looking forward to most include: René Kaiser on 'Queerupting Coming Out'; Kavya Krishna on the gendered body in dance; Miriam Walsh on constructions of beauty and female identity in fairy tales; Zahra Stardust on the body within the sex industry'; Caitlin D. Fisher on the female football body in Brazil; and Caroline Jones on non-consensual body modifications.
If you haven't seen the programme yet, you really should check it out - it looks awesome. And tell us, which sessions are you most excited about?
TALKING BODIES 2013: An international, interdisciplinary conference on identity, sexuality & representation.