Wednesday 18 March 2020
11.00 - 13.00
Our Histories, Our Selves: Reflexive Approaches to Gender, Embodiment and Memory
Hannah Froom :
Historicising Teen Menstruation: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Embodiment, Sense and Memory
Women and Gender
To historicize adolescent understandings and experiences of menstruation in the period 1960-1990, my research involves interdisciplinary engagement with theory, methodology and research findings from both history and the social sciences. It examines how social and cultural changes, including an increase in the capital of youth, a growth in discourses of ... (Show more)
To historicize adolescent understandings and experiences of menstruation in the period 1960-1990, my research involves interdisciplinary engagement with theory, methodology and research findings from both history and the social sciences. It examines how social and cultural changes, including an increase in the capital of youth, a growth in discourses of modernity, and the development of modern forms of sanitary products, altered teenage girls experiences of menstruation, and how race and class structured these gendered experiences. To understand how menstruation was presented to, and experienced by, teenage girls in their everyday lives, I have studied magazines produced for teenage girls between the years 1960 and 1990.
Historicising teen magazines from this period requires cross-disciplinary engagement with sociological studies of magazines, methodological approaches to using magazines as sources, and sociological theories of youth, gender and the body. Accompanying magazine analysis, oral history interviews have been important in enabling my research to move beyond an analysis of representations of menstruation, and towards an understanding of the relationship between historical subjects and mass culture, and of the embodied experience of menstruation.
This paper explores how using photographs and magazines in oral history interviews, my research has fused methodologies from different disciplines. It considers interdisciplinary theoretical questions important to understanding how teenage girls navigated and understood menstruation in the period 1960-1990. These questions include how subjects relate to representations in mass culture and how structure and agency shape their engagement with mass culture and their individual embodied experiences. This paper addresses these theoretical questions, with a focus on how issues of representation and experience, and structure and agency are navigated and addressed specifically within an oral history interview setting.
It does so by considering how the tactile elements of a photo and magazine interview can aid understandings of embodied experience and memory, enabling aspects of culture and identity to be shown rather than narrated. It is also concerned with the ethical and methodological question of how interviewees can enact power and agency within the confines of an interview setting. Building on the work of other historians, and my own research findings it explores how photographs and magazines facilitate a degree of intersubjectivity, by displacing attention and power, and encouraging participants to be agents in facilitating discussion. This paper aims to demonstrate my interdisciplinary approach to historicizing menstruation in the period 1960-1990, and how this interdisciplinary engagement has aided both practical methodological considerations and theoretical engagement. (Show less)
Tracey Loughran :
I/ We/ Other: Subjectivity, Intersubjectivity and Responsibility in a Feminist History
I am the Principal Investigator on the Wellcome Trust-funded project ‘Body, Self and Family: Women’s Emotional, Psychological and Physical Health in Britain, c. 1960-1990’. As the originator of the project, its aim of developing new methodologies to understand women’s everyday health experiences from the ‘bottom up’ reflects my own interests ... (Show more)
I am the Principal Investigator on the Wellcome Trust-funded project ‘Body, Self and Family: Women’s Emotional, Psychological and Physical Health in Britain, c. 1960-1990’. As the originator of the project, its aim of developing new methodologies to understand women’s everyday health experiences from the ‘bottom up’ reflects my own interests as a historian. At the same time, the organisation of the project reflects my political-historical beliefs: as a feminist, that the personal is political; as a feminist historian, that History is inevitably personal and political; as a historian, that History is always a collective endeavour, each work founded on the labours of those who went before us; again, as a feminist historian, that we must work together to produce histories that contribute to some greater good, however that is defined.
What does this mean in practice? In this paper, I discuss three interrelated aspects of my work on this project, in each case focusing on subjectivity and/or intersubjective relations. The first section considers the historian’s responsibility to her oral history interviewees, with a particular focus on how to avoid ‘othering’ participants. All historians have a responsibility towards their sources, but the emotional dynamics of this responsibility is heightened in ongoing oral history projects. This particular project deals with intimate experiences, those which many of us find difficult to articulate in our everyday lives or to face in memory. How can we not only deal with these issues sensitively, but put them to use in ways that respect both our interviewees’ lives and the aims of a feminist history?
Secondly, I consider my personal relation to the project, in terms of the past work that led to it, writings on history and subjectivity that I have undertaken alongside it, and the body I research and write from now. My reasons for choosing to work on women’s history were personal, political and historical – and I doubt I understand all these reasons fully even now. If I am asking interviewees to open up about aspects of their lives that expose their raw nerves, then in asking these questions and handling their answers, I am also probing my own vulnerabilities. The personal must be worked into the History, but how to do this in a way that is not self-indulgent and does not efface the voices of participants, or the testimony of other sources?
Thirdly, what does it mean to embark on a project of this kind with other researchers? The project is organised so that each team member shapes her own research strand. These strands will be pulled together in the co-authored book resulting from the project. What does this mean for how we collectively enact responsibility to our participants and sources? Furthermore, if we are all bringing our own psychic investments, as women of different ages relating to the stories and experiences of women from other ages, to the project, how can we honour that experience in the final history? (Show less)
Kate Mahoney :
“When I had Polio, I read and read and read”: Exploring Histories of Women’s Health and Activism through Childhood Illness Narratives
In recent years, historians have seen the production of largescale oral history projects that explore the development of women’s activism in Britain from the 1960s onwards. By adopting a life history approach, these archived oral history collections – which include the British Library’s Sisterhood and After project – provide historians ... (Show more)
In recent years, historians have seen the production of largescale oral history projects that explore the development of women’s activism in Britain from the 1960s onwards. By adopting a life history approach, these archived oral history collections – which include the British Library’s Sisterhood and After project – provide historians with the opportunity to understand individual women’s politicisation, documenting their reflections on the experiences that facilitated their initial engagement with feminist politics. Re-using these interviews to understand the history of women’s health activism in late twentieth-century Britain also highlights the role played by childhood illness in influencing women’s later interactions with political ideas and activities.
Drawing on accounts contained in oral history interviews and autobiographies, as well as sociological, psychological, and literary studies of childhood memory, this paper explores how experiences of childhood illness have become sites for women’s subsequent politicisation. It assesses the specific aspects of experience that feminist activists have foregrounded when narrating childhood illness, notably the isolation equated with bedrest and the limited activities that this prescribed treatment allowed. Some feminist activists have recalled reading voraciously whilst ill in bed, a hobby that they felt initially incubated their interest in new and politicised ways of thinking about the world. Other women have described how they subsequently drew on the emotions associated with childhood health experiences, such as shame and embarrassment, to campaign in adulthood for improved health provision for young girls. This paper therefore explores where women situate their childhood health within the broader trajectory of their lives and examines why this positioning is important. This assessment queries how the politics that underpin women’s health activism can and should be defined, highlighting a variety of political impetuses ranging from the development of new ideas about women’s health, to the desire to limit the replication of negative health experiences amongst subsequent generations of women.
As this paper will also demonstrate, narratives of childhood illness are marked by their vividness in a manner that can be contrasted to recollections of ill health in adulthood. Childhood illness narratives are often grounded in imagery and sensation. They tell us, for example, about the very particular smell of a waiting room in a 1960s doctors’ surgery, and of the colours of the branded biscuit tin re-used by a mother for the family’s first aid kit. By recognising the vibrancy with which childhood memories are recalled, with an emphasis on the sensory qualities of clinical encounters, as well as the imagery and emotions associated with treatments for illness within the home, this paper provides further insight into what constitutes the history of women’s everyday health in postwar Britain. (Show less)
Daisy Payling :
‘Many Lonely Girls’: Exploring Lesbian Health, Self, and Community through Sappho Magazine and Outhouse East, 1972-2019
Formed in 1972 and running for almost decade, Sappho was more than a monthly magazine. It created an environment in which lesbian and bisexual women could find information, share stories and build local and transnational connections. As agony aunt Marjorie Proops wrote in 1972, Sappho offered salvation to the ‘many ... (Show more)
Formed in 1972 and running for almost decade, Sappho was more than a monthly magazine. It created an environment in which lesbian and bisexual women could find information, share stories and build local and transnational connections. As agony aunt Marjorie Proops wrote in 1972, Sappho offered salvation to the ‘many lonely girls’ who wrote to her regarding lesbianism. Sappho built a community in text and in the world; organising monthly socials and helping to form the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard in 1974.
This paper explores how themes of health, selfhood and community emerged in Sappho magazine and how those themes are reflected in oral history interviews taken with lesbian and bisexual women decades later. Using a close analysis of magazine issues and archival material from one of Sappho’s founders Jackie Forster, a lesbian and feminist activist, this paper investigates how Sappho addressed its readers’ bodily, psychological and emotional health. It asks how health messages to lesbian women were communicated and how issues of mental health, sexual health and reproduction were discussed in the emerging contexts of gay liberation and the women’s health movement. Sappho regularly published readers’ content and expressions of self: letters, anecdotes and poems, and in doing so created a community which moved beyond the boundaries of the text.
This paper explores environments in which expertise around health, as well as medical and psychiatric discourses around sexuality, could be mediated and contested by lesbian women; in writing and conversations, as a commentary on everyday experiences in the present and as reminiscences. In doing so, it offers reflections on queer oral history and history which takes seriously the value of (Show less)