Summer School 2015
16th October 2015
International Women, Ageing and Media Research Summer School
20/21 July, Cheltenham, UK
Venue: Fullwood House (FW015A&B), Park Campus, University of Gloucestershire
The 2015 International Women, Ageing and Media (WAM) Research Summer School took place at the Park campus Cheltenham on 20th and 21st July. Partially supported by a second year of ACT funding, it attracted researchers from Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain and the UK. The two day event was comprised of research presentations, an interactive workshop on ageing and Wikipedia, and opportunities for participants to think intergenerationally together about the ethics, approaches and aspirations of doing research focused on women, ageing and media.
WAM’s long-term project ‘Keep Dancing’ was extended for a further year by hosting another WAM dance party where the music consisted of a playlist of Summer School participant generated dance tracks (see forthcoming issue 2 of PGWAM journal). This year’s keynote speaker was Professor Barb Marshall (Trent University, Canada), who presented work on ‘successful ageing and the heterosexual imaginary.’
OPENING WORKSHOP – Maude Gauthier (Concordia University)
This workshop aims to provide and to develop strategies to foster the inclusion of research on women and ageing into cyberspace. This workshop originates from a project known as ACTipedia, which is both a research project that is teaching us about the inner logics and workings of Wikipedia and an activist project to rectify representations of ageing in Wikipedia (see: http://actproject.ca/act/actipedia/). As a powerful generator of public discourse and an indispensable source of online information, it is imperative that Wikipedia offers a diversity of perspectives. Our initial inventory of entries revealed that this was not the case. In the last few months, we were able to create and edit over twenty entries. One of our most interesting experiences has been with our attempt to create an entry for WAM, which was swiftly nominated for deletion (see: http://actproject.ca/perpetuating-exclusion-in-wikipedia-the-case-of-wam-or-the-centre-for-women-ageing-and-media/). Resisting this deletion, we learned a lot about the logics that govern entry into Wikipedia. This workshop will attend to the issues that were raised, explaining how Wikipedia’s rules can be used to eliminate some constituencies, and will suggest ways to contribute and work around these problems. The workshop will review the basic editing features of Wikipedia in order to enable participants to contribute. We will dedicate time to practice editing skills and actually contribute to Wikipedia. Participants are encouraged to bring their own laptop. They will be able to choose which entries and to what extent they would like to edit.
OPENING KEYNOTE: Professor Barb Marshall (Trent University)
“Happily ever after? ‘Successful ageing’ and the heterosexual imaginary”
Drawing on cultural gerontology, feminist theory and queer theory, this paper develops a critique of the rhetoric and visual representation of ‘successful aging’ which demonstrates the extent to which ‘success’ is equated with the gendered embodiment of heterosexuality. ‘Successful aging’ (along with kindred concepts like ‘positive aging’ and ‘active aging’) has been a controversial concept in cultural gerontology, prompting critiques of its inherent individualism, lack of attention to structural inequalities and promotion of neoliberal strategies of self-care (Katz & Calasanti, 2014; Rubinstein & de Medeiros, 2014). Critiques of its heteronormative focus have begun to emerge (Fabbre, 2014; Marshall, 2011, 2014; Sandberg, 2008) but are both empirically and theoretically underdeveloped. Using the concept of the ‘heterosexual imaginary’ (Ingraham, 1994) – the linking of notions of ‘sacred’ and naturalized heterosexuality to illusions of well-being and happiness — I explore the imagery of the ‘third age’, with examples drawn from a range of cultural products aimed at adults in mid and later life. These include magazines and health promotion and ‘lifestyle’ websites originating in both Europe and North America. The intent is not to simply map the exclusion or marginalization of LGBT representations, but to illuminate the ways in which assumptions of gendered heterosexuality organize the visual field of ‘successful aging’ more generally, and how particular representations of aging bodies are used to secure the heterosexual imaginary.
Katherine Newstead (University of Exeter): “The Other Woman: Ageing Femininities in the Contemporary Cinematic Fairy Tale”
The fairy tale has always been a privileged space for debates on mothers and daughters, with its focus on young female protagonists inevitably forcing us to look at the relationship between these girls and their mother figures, rendering the ageing female body visible. This form provides a safe, fantastical, timeless space for examining ageing, and is unafraid to suggest that it is a grotesque and terrifying process. Using the recent cinematic version of Snow White, Snow White and the Huntsman (Sanders, 2012), I will posit that the tensions between Snow White and her stepmother, Ravenna , are a result of psychological anxieties surrounding ageing, and its effects on the body. I will argue that Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron, is symbolic of a mother reminded of her own ageing by her daughter’s maturity and independence. Ravenna’s reluctance to accept her ageing, and the measures she employs to prevent her body’s decline coincides with the contemporary post-feminist and patriarchal rhetoric of celebrating youth and beauty as markers of successful consumerism and productivity. Moreover, I will suggest that Theron’s star body is a place of multiple tensions surrounding ageing; a process made more visible via such glamorous Hollywood actors, yet rendered less visible to fit within the postfeminist ideal of the girl.
Susan Liddy (University of Limerick): “That ‘Old-Folk Stink’: Ageing as Decay and Loss in Lance Daley’s Life’s a Breeze”
Research has highlighted the dearth of older female characters represented in Western cinema (e.g. Markson 2003; Lauzen 2015). Older women are either absent from the screen altogether or are marginal, shadowy, figures on the periphery of the story world. Pre‐release publicity had suggested that Lance Daly’s ‘Life’s a Breeze’ (Ireland, 2013), an ensemble ‘feel‐good’ comedy, was to be an exception. Internationally renowned actor Fionnula Flanagan, 72 years of age at the time of the film’s release, was cast as Nan, one of the central characters. Nan is an 80 year old retired schoolteacher with extensive life savings that she has stuffed into her mattress. These are savings her children know nothing about – until they take it upon themselves to spring‐clean her house, discarding among other things, the mattress. The comedy revolves around their frantic attempts to locate and retrieve it in order to lay claim to the money. On the one hand the character of Nan is constructed as smart and wily. But, ultimately, it is her ageing body and mind that defines her, eclipsing her intellect, history and accomplishments. She is “not the full shilling”, “a mad ‘oul’ one” whose leaky body is a source of humorous revulsion. Focusing on plot, dialogue and character development this paper will trace a narrative of decay and loss that leans heavily on “cultural stereotypes of incompetence and disgust” (Chivers, 2003, x) and denigrates the older women as ‘other’.
David Madden (Concordia University): “Les ondistes du Québec : une histoire des ondes Martenot par ses interprètes”
While the Ondes Martenot continues to draw attention from musicians, scholars, media artists, and museums for its advanced user interface, sonic potential, and connection to both acoustic and electronic music cultures, scholarship has not yet examined current or past interpreters, known as ondistes. I am struck by the dearth of information on the Ondes’ ondistes, most of whom are ageing women living in Québec, and their highly developed musical practices. Drawing from sound studies, cultural history, ageing studies and feminist media studies, this project undertakes an original feminist historiography of the Ondes Martenot by weaving together neglected aspects of the Ondes as a performing instrument vis‐à‐vis the following interpreters: Suzanne Binet‐Audet, Marie Bernard and Geneviève Grenier. The first research objective is to pursue an original analysis of the practices of these ondistes in order to understand how histories of musical interpreters (i.e., users) add to our knowledge of electronic music, ageing studies and popular music. This work is related to a growing group of scholars undertaking historical cultural studies of musical technologies and everyday life.
The compositional works of Virginia Astley are hugely complex in their exploration of national identity, Englishness and concepts of space and place. Using Anderson’s work on imagined communities as a theoretical framework, this presentation will examine the works of Astley and focus particularly on her 1983 album From Gardens Where We Feel Secure to asses how, through music, she is able to create a recognisable, multifaceted and relatable construct of English national identity. Astley’s compositional style of the 1980s incorporated innovative and exploratory sound recording methods alongside traditional Western instrumentation and singing techniques. This juxtaposition of musical style and approach creates a very specific image of a pastoral England that has attracted little attention in the United Kingdom but proven hugely successful in Japan. Although a prime case study for discussions relating to national identity and popular music, Virginia Astley has not been the subject of any prior academic debate. The purpose of this presentation is to explore these issues and introduce Astley’s work to the existing discourse surrounding popular music and English national identity.
Linda Hess (WWU Münster): “Lesbian narratives of aging, spaces and places”
In lesbian narratives of aging, spaces and places often appear inconspicuous. However, they actually facilitate significant connections to important political topics. This happens in a variety of texts, such as for example in Valerie Taylor’s Prism (1981) where the protagonist moves from Chicago to a small town in New York, foregoing the connections of urban LGBT networks for economic reasons, to discussions among a middle‐aged group of lesbian and gay friends whether or not to move into a predominantly straight, or an LGBT retirement community in Paxton Court (1995), to the movie Cloudburst’s (2011) ties national spaces (USA vs. Canada) to legal rights, and the portrayal of the protagonists’ home as a sight of contested agencies, to the TV series The Fosters’ (2013) use of the suburban house as a setting for their family narrative. I want to explore that fact that while space in lesbian aging narratives tends to seemingly just provide a backdrop for the stories, as opposed to comparable works with gay male protagonists (largely set in expansive and symbolic metropolitan spaces) space and place are crucial for narratives of lesbian aging in providing an entry‐point into highly important topics.
Carina Steger (University of Graz) : “Identity behind bars – the influence of prison space on identity formation as represented in the American television series Orange is the New Black”
The focus of my current research lies in identity (trans‐)formation/identity (re‐)construction, the relevance of space and structure and how they are represented in contemporary media. As data I have chosen the American television series Orange is the New Black and picked out one specific character – Galina Rezinkov, a Russian Immigrant – to examine with respect to the concepts mentioned above. In order to answer the questions of how that character is represented and how her identity is (re‐)constructed/(trans‐)formed within that medial representation I have analysed two scenes. The first one being the introductory scene of Galina Rezinkov and her identity within the prison environment. The second scene includes a flashback where the character’s identity outside of prison is represented. By contrasting those two scenes, the transformation from the space (and its underlying structures) outside of prison to the space of incarceration represents a liberation for the character in the sense that Galina Rezinkov’s identity is also transformed ‐ from being the devote wife to becoming a representation of the prison matriarch which has more control within the prison than ‘outside’. Therefore, it can be argued that this medial representation of prison space does not only reverse the conventional image of prison and ‘the outside’ but that it also constructs an almost utopian prison space which strongly influences the (re‐)construction of the inmates’ identities. character in the sense that Galina Rezinkov’s identity is also transformed ‐ from being the devoted wife to becoming a representation of the prison matriarch which has more control within the prison than ‘outside’. Therefore, it can be argued that this medial representation of prison space does not only reverse the conventional image of prison and ‘the outside’ but that it also constructs an almost utopian prison space which strongly influences the (re)construction of the inmates’ identities.
Nuria Mina-Riera (University of Lleida): “The Ageing Experience Shaping the Portrayal of Place in Lorna Crozier’s Poetry”
Lorna Crozier is a well‐known Canadian poet, who has been classified, among other categorizations, as a writer of place (Philips, 2002). At sixty‐eight, she has published sixteen volumes of poetry within which the natural surroundings of her native Saskatchewan and her adoptie British Columbia are a recurrent topic; thus transforming mere spaces into highly meaningful places. The distinction between space and place is based on the assumption that when a specific space becomes imbued with meaning, because of their inhabitants’ deep emotional and psychological ties with it, space becomes place (Cecil and Cecil, 2007: 240). Life experience has, however, brought changes in the poet’s interpretation of place, while the general view has remained intact. Therefore, one can observe both similarities and differences in the symbolism associated to place in the poetry of the young‐old Crozier in comparison to her earlier poetry. This presentation is aimed at explaining the influence that the ageing process may have had on the portrayal of place in Lorna Crozier’s poetry. This relationship can be further explored by means of connecting the critical apparatus of ecocriticism to that of age studies. Although such interdisciplinary approach is still at an early stage, Harry R. Moody’s latest publications (2008, 2010, 2014) suggest a clear move towards it.
Caroline Coyle (Athlone Institute of Technology): “Phenomenal Women: A Poetic View of the Social Construction of Widows in Irish Society“
Research in the area of gerontology reveals that due to Irish women living longer than Irish men, there is a large cohort of older widows who constitute part of Irish society. How does Irish society view the older widow? How do older widows view themselves and what is the disparity between the two views? What do they feel about their portrayal in cultural, social and media terms? Over the course of a number of months I facilitated poetry readings to women from the Active Age Group and the Widow’s Association in Athlone. Utilising poetry, a pathway was forged, allowing the women to vocalise their feelings and what is important to them. Through the discourse of poems such as Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Women, an avenue for narrative was unveiled. The widows spoke about their lives, their strengths, their dreams, their childhood and the importance of friendship. A short film was produced; a snapshot in time of the narratives of the widows living in town‐based rural Ireland. How can we facilitate and empower a sense of belonging among this increasing cohort in Irish society? By what means can society learn to listen to the voice of the older widow?
Ioana Schiau (SNSPA, Bucharest): “Older women, Sense of Humour, Loneliness and Emotion Recognition. Preliminary results on a Romanian Sample”
Several studies argue that women cope better than men with life difficulties associated with ageing (e.g. Moschny et al., 2011). This could be explained by the fact that women have higher social and emotional competence compared to men, preventing them from social and emotional loneliness. In terms of emotion recognition, the literature reports that women perform better than men, also at older groups (Kessels et al., 2014). In the current study we investigate the relationship between emotion recognition (using DANVA, Nowicki, 2004) and perceived loneliness (Social and Emotional Loneliness Scale for Adults, diTomaso, Brannen, & Best, 2004) on a group of Romanian women, aged 65. In addition, we test and validate a scale to measure sense of humour for older adults, Multidimensional Sense of Humour Scale (Thorson & Powell, 1991) and we discuss the potential role of homour as a mechanism of coping. We start from the study of Ruch, Proyer and Weber (2010) showing that men score higher than women on humour scales in all age groups, except from the oldest group. Then we show that older women’s higher level of sense of humour can predict social loneliness, whereas emotion decoding abilities are more connected with the emotional loneliness.
Study 1 established that a positive relationship between exercise to music and exercise motivation, psychological affect and wellbeing exists, though the mechanisms behind how or why this relationship occurs was not clear. However, there was some indication that individual music preference and exercise type could mediate the relationship. Additionally, whilst exercise motivation, psychological affect and wellbeing are influencing factors of exercise adoption and adherence, it can currently only be inferred that exercise to music impacts upon long-term exercise behaviour. Furthermore, the impact of exercising to music on older women, though a critical population due to low exercise levels, was not investigated. Moreover, the majority of studies exploring exercise to music and the above psychological benefits were of a quantitative design, and as such adopting a qualitative methodology in study 2 would be beneficial to gain a deeper understanding into how and why exercise to music can be beneficial.
Study 2 will firstly aim to explore how women over the age of 65 years old perceive exercise to music to benefit their intrinsic motivation to exercise, the psychological affect of exercising and their wellbeing over time. Additionally, based upon models, theories and current literature, participants will also be asked to describe their experience of being in, and moving between, the action and maintenance phase of exercise and any perceived influence of music during these stages. Furthermore, participant’s music engagement and preferences will be explored in order to identify any patterns or links between music preferences and exercise to music habits. Overall, this will help to provide more evidence regarding exercise to music’s impact on exercise motivation, psychological affect and wellbeing, as well as explore whether exercise to music can impact individuals exercise adoption and adherence. Additionally, exploring individual music engagement and music selection for various exercise types will help to further clarify how music influences exercisers.
Kinneret Lahad (NCJW, Tel-Aviv University and Karen Hvidtfeldt Madsen (NCJW, Tel-Aviv University): “’Everyone Thinks I am her Grandmother!’: Questioning the Category of the ‘Old Mother’ in Contemporary Danish Media”
In recent years of the phenomenon of 40+ mothers has generated much media attention in Denmark. Within these discussions 40+ mothers are labelled as ridiculous, bad or irresponsible and their right to access assisted reproduction technology is restricted and questioned. In this paper we analyze these discussions as a form of moral panic and argue that the ideological category the “old mother” is another formulation of sexist and ageist discourses which identifies feminine aging with decline and emptiness. Drawing on age feminist studies we consider these media representations as a manifestation of middle ageism in which 40+ mothers undergo a process of accelerated aging as they “fail to act according to their age”. Our analysis follows these emerging discourses and also discusses some of the alternatives that they pose. Our paper is further couched in social and queer studies of time which aims to challenge normative reproductive temporalities and the ideology of aging as decline. Thus we claim that the category of 40+ mothers opens new rhythmic options for reproductive time and heteronormative life course paradigms in general.
Elena Fronk (Maastricht University): “The embodiment of aging selves in virtual space”
This presentation discusses the role of the body in performances of age identity in online discussion forums – a space that is often considered to provide room for the subversion of identity, precisely due to the absence of the body. Also positive visions about ageing are often conflated with visions of agelessness, which assumes a split between body and mind. In light of critical voices in ageing studies which have called this dualism into question, my analysis of a popular German dating service’s discussion forum focusses on how older users do perform embodied identities, when positioning themselves (and others) in debates about attractiveness and sexuality in later life. As I will show, the users’ performances both reify and challenge contemporary neo‐liberal ideals of ageless and youthful older bodies. Looking at how age and gender intersect in these performances, I seek to contribute to the critical discussions of the double standard assumption. Given its focus on physicality and norms of beauty, it suggests a double jeopardy for women, and tends to ignore the ways in which physical ageing might be difficult for men. This is called into question by how the forum users – both women and men ‐‐ perform their selves as embodied.
Hannah Grist (University of Gloucestershire): “Working with Memory/Thinking with Age in the Care Environment: An autoethnographic approach to the times and spaces of caring”
Using multiple qualitative methods the proposed research brings together the perspectives of two researchers working in the field of ageing studies, both at different stages of their career (and life course), both of whom have experiences of working in the care home environment. Employing a joint‐autoethnographic approach together with semi‐structured interviews with contemporary care workers, this chapter uses ‘thinking with age’ (Jennings and Gardner, 2012), memory work (Onyx and Small, 2001), and the concepts of space, place, liminality and time (May and Thrift, 2001) developed within ageing studies to analyse the lived experiences of caring for the aged in the care home setting. With care homes subject to temporal, spatial, budgetary, policy and organisational constraints, this paper examines different experiences and contexts of care work people in care homes by drawing on complimentary and contrasting approaches separated by nearly 25 years. Central to the proposed research is a discussion of the work that carers do within the contradictory cultural and social space of care homes which are, at one and the same time, liminal (inside and yet outside of contemporary society) but also highly regulated (by that very same society).
Kate Latham (University of Gloucestershire): “Dementia and cupcakes”
This unusual juxtaposition will provide the basis for an exploration of dementia which meets the themes of the conference. The main focus will be on the place of dementia in contemporary writing and why it, of all the potential illnesses of increasing age, is so frequently portrayed in fiction. The presentation will offer a taxonomic guide for the reader of what will be termed ‘dementia fiction’. This will lead into a brief look at the space dementia inhabits in the wider culture and will end with a deliberation of greeting cards. Participants will be asked to offer suggestions about when they might envisage such cards to be sent and to whom, and whether this heralds a shift in the cultural understanding of dementia . The title of the presentation may appear as frivolous and potentially offensive to any participants who may be supporting a person with a dementia . I will begin the presentation by checking with the audience their status as carers or supporters and clarify my position and rationale to avoid any distress.
Simone Driessen (University of Rotterdam): “Negotiating Roots Capital in Post-Youth Audiences’ Music-Related Narratives”
Jennings and Gardner (2012) unfolded how women in their 40s and over keep making and enjoying music – albeit passing the ‘culturally appropriate age’ of popular music consumption. This study highlights how post-youth women (Bennett & Hodkinson, 2012) are already occupied with explaining their enjoyment of music icons from their youth, such as the Backstreet Boys (BSB) or The Big Reunion acts (e.g. 5ive, Blue), which their peers consider age-inappropriate. Post-youth are those in their late twenties to late thirties gaining new tasks and duties due to growing older (e.g. motherhood or working full-time). The interviewees legitimize their music consumption by considering their revived fandom (the Big Reunion) as a space to take a break from everyday life, because it is reminiscent of their childhood. Whereas the perpetual BSB-fandom offers the fans a continuous safe haven – where fans can turn to when coping with the challenges of ageing. These music-related spaces are constructed, and activated, by putting to use one’s roots capital: capital that is claimed through one’s narrative reflection and helps to explain the attachment to a cultural artefact from one’s roots – (both) the place and time (Zeitgeist) in which one grew up. Hence, this paper discusses how these music-fans are already as post-youth challenged to renegotiate their music consumption.
Ieva Stončikaitė (University of Lleida): Sexually Active Aging Women: Liberated “Docile Bodies”?
This paper examines the intersections of popular culture, bodily images and sexuality from a literary gerontology standpoint. Erica Jong, one of the key figures of the Second Wave Women’s Liberation Movement, and an outstanding figure in contemporary American literature, is best known for her 1973 novel Fear of Flying in which she openly discussed female sexuality. Jong holds that sex is the source of inspiration and fuel for creativity. The study of Jong’s oeuvre shows that she challenges the ‘double standard’ according to which aging women are associated with sexual inactivity and decline rather than growth and accumulation. Her writings lend support to the argument that not all aged women get frustrated trying to live up to beauty-standards and the idealization of youthfulness; instead, many keep up active sexual lives. However, by creating aging, but still sexual and attractive heroines, as well as expressing the preoccupations with her own aging body, Jong seems to succumb to the Western youth-cult based consumerist lifestyles that reinforce a ‘liberated’ woman’s spending power and self-surveillance through the need of rejuvenation. In so doing, Jong seems to advocate ‘New Aging’ politics that claim that sexual practices and bodily ‘improvements’ add to successful and healthy aging.