Summer School 2016
4th December 2015
International Women, Ageing and Media Research Summer School
23rd and 24th June 2016, Cheltenham, UK
Venue: Fullwood House (FW015A&B), Park Campus, University of Gloucestershire
The 2016 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 third year of ACT funding, it attracted researchers from Canada, Germany, Ireland, Spain and the UK. The two day event was comprised of research presentations, an interactive workshop on ‘Doing Boundary Work’, 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 again 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. This year’s keynote speaker was Professor Barbara Crow (York University, Canada). Professor Crow is the Dean and AVP Graduate in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University, Canada. In addition to feminism and women’s studies, her research interests are in the social, cultural, political and economic implications of digital technologies.
Engendering Desire in the Age of “Pink Viagra”: A Queer-Feminist Critique
As Pfizer’s Erectile Dysfunction drug Viagra gained profitability and cultural prominence at the turn of the twenty-first century, pharmaceutical companies trained their sights on developing comparable treatments for Female Sexual Dysfunction. Whereas pharmaceutical interventions for sexual dysfunction in men have targeted performance and function, desire has emerged as the defining problem for female sexuality, with a controversial new drug for Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) entering the market in 2015. This paper examines the boundary work performed by medical, psychiatric, and digital media discourses to distinguish healthy from pathological desire in the age of “pink Viagra.” I explore how gender and age inflect these discourses and critique the differential positioning of older women and older men within popular and biomedical accounts of sexual dysfunction. The second half of this paper considers the role of feminist and postfeminist thought in shaping the conversation around HSDD and outlines a queer-feminist approach to depathologizing aging women’s desires and pleasures.
Age in the age of Autotune: the (re)construction of Aretha Franklin
Emily Baker (University of Liverpool, UK)
Aretha Franklin’s cover of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’ in late 2014 met a baffled hum. On the one hand, Executive Producer Clive Davis defiantly declared Franklin had proved that ‘…all contemporary music needs right now is the voice. What a voice!’ (Davis in Billboard 2014) while the music press asked why such an important voice should be subject to such flagrant use of the controversial practice of autotune (Washington Post, Time Magazine).
Age is problematic when heard in the recorded voice. I am interested in the technologies of power that are at work in the painstaking construction and mediation of the voice, arguing that ageing singing voices hold potential to transgress the culturally ascribed boundaries of gender, sexuality and biological sex (Ahmed, 2006; Butler, 1999). Increasingly, music producers are less facilitators of musical expression and more cosmetic surgeons of vocal flaw. Evoking notions of Foucault’s panopticon (1977), postproduction processes rely on producers responding to standardised market strategies to meet perceived expectations of what constitutes the perfect artist. A surgical intervention of sorts, the ageing voice is subject to a different kind of nip and tuck when autotune is applied; an operation which is ostensibly more reconstructive than cosmetic.
Ultimately, patriarchal music industry practices actively punish voices; disciplining those timbres which embody and express age. I argue that unstitching the practices which audibly frame Aretha Franklin’s (at)tuned voice reveals that the ‘correction’ is a specifically gendered sequence of processes. In this case, Franklin’s iconic melisma not only highlights that the flaw is in the shame of ageing but also opens up discourse in how ageing voices are potentially transgressive.
On the Making of a German Feminist or Why Reflecting on Retired German Men Has Changed My View of the World
Lisa-Nike Bṻhring (University of Gloucestershire, UK)
Being a German, middle-aged female and working in a German business university of applied sciences has inspired my topic choice while simultaneously restricting my research perspective. Only when I was I able to transcend what is considered to be the truth in my socio-cultural setting, was I able to move from a post-positivistic research position to a constructionist research philosophy informed by feminism.
This helped me to understand that by exploring the interface between the cultural narratives of ageing males conveyed in U.S. action films and the experience of older German men and the socio-cultural context they operate in, I will be able to explore for the powerful influence cultural narratives have on our self-perception regardless of gender and particularly in older age. Ideally my research will contribute to a relationship between older men and women in which we understand each other as accomplices in the ambitious task of going beyond the powerful hegemonic cultural narratives affecting our self-perception at older age. This could facilitate the construction of meaningful, positive and progressive life-course narratives in later life.
The Bog Queen Video Project: Transformation through contemplative immersion
Caroline Coyle & Nicole McKenna (Athlone Institute of Technology, Ireland)
This extract, prepared for the 2016 International Women, Ageing and Media (WAM) Research Summer School shall examine the authenticity of representation and presentation of this site specific original Bog Queen Immersion work through its video documentation. It seeks to question the validity of temporal reconstruction and the conveyance of contextual and social meaning and relations through secondary and mixed transmission.
The Bog Queen Immersion Project is site specific art project that seeks to actively contemplate the social construction of older women in society through immersion in bog pools and contemplative poetry. In reference to poet Seamus Heaney’s Bog Queen, this transformative project seeks to explore questions surrounding older women in society, specifically, their social construction; in how they see themselves; and in how they are viewed. The Bog Queen Video Project is the documentation of the original Bog Queen Immersion Project.
In the Bog Queen Immersion Project woman is seen to immerse herself in therapeutic mineral rich peaty bog waters and to experience the catharsis of poetry and peat. The ancient Greeks used the term catharsis for the cleansing of both the body by medicine and the soul by art. Poetry by its very nature is a metamorphosis and an agent of change, as is peat and bog matter. The act of immersion is accompanied by poetry including a poem written by Caroline Coyle entitled Paying Homage to the Bog Queen. This poem speaks of rebirth and the spiritual transformation that occurs in tandem with the physical experience.
Television from Mother India: Watching Hindi serials with women from the Gujarati-speaking Indian Hindu Diaspora in Preston
Mita Lad (Edge Hill University, UK)
Audience studies have largely neglected to explore the television viewing habits and practices of the South Asian diaspora here in the United Kingdom. Marie Gillespie’s (1995) studies of South Asian youths in Southall, west London gave a brief glimpse into familial television viewing, while Rajinder Dudrah’s study (2002) gives us insights into the diasporas’ consumption of transnational television. Neither study focuses on women and their viewing habits particularly as in recent years as there has been a rise in content being made available from India on transnational digital channels.
This paper is a presentation of the findings from ethnographic observations that have been conducted as part of an on-going research project. The research hopes to highlight the viewing position of women as they watch daily Hindi serials on channels like Star Plus and Zee TV. Focussing on women over the age of 50 from the Gujarati-speaking Indian Hindu diasporic community in Preston, Lancashire. The observations will help to establish their viewing practices and habits. Particular attention will be drawn to the participant’s use of technology, the way in which the participants talked about the serials and the overall space in which they watch television.
Older women and animalized bodies
Constance Lafontaine (Concordia University, Canada)
Animal figures and animal terms are frequently taken up in our lexicon of human bodies, and they are disproportionately used in reference to women’s bodies (Adams, 2001). This practice includes older women, for whom animal references are often used as part of a language of ridicule and dismissal (e.g., older women as cougars or old bats). In this paper, I draw from ageing studies, eco-feminism and animal studies to provide a critical engagement with these tropological animalizations of older women’s bodies and argue that they reify (hetero)normative and ageist social orders. To do this, I more specifically examine the place of the figure of the “cat-lady” in contemporary cultural texts. The figure of the cat-lady is often understood to connote an uncoupled, recluse older woman who shares her life with a multiplicity of cats, and as a protagonist she is often a marginalized character whose abnormality works to emphasize the relative normalcy of others. I argue that understanding the figure of “cat-lady” is less about emphasizing an attachment to one or more companion animal, but rather, and crucially, about a woman’s rejection of the heteronormative expectations of later life and a deviant/defiant (a)sexuality.
Archetypes of Ageing Femininity in the Contemporary Cinematic Fairy Tale Reboot
Katie Newstead (University of Exeter, UK)
The function of an archetype is, principally, to allow for communication between a series of texts and their reader, providing a sense of accord and understanding. Archetypes exist in the background, beyond the current viewing or reading experience, and offer a universally recognisable reference point from which a viewer can make sense of what they are seeing at that moment. Such archetypes as the fairy godmother, wicked stepmother and crone have traditionally long appeared in fairy tales, which themselves have provided a space for women to communicate with each other, when other areas of society have not been accessible. The cinematic fairy tale reboot uses the star body, via the global conglomeration of Hollywood, to portray contemporary versions of these archetypes in order to communicate aspects of the female experience, i.e. ageing, the life cycle, consumption and (re)production. I will argue that the individualised star body, such as that of Angelina Jolie, appears within the cinematic fairy tale reboot as an archetype coded with broader socio-cultural values as a means of reifying what it is to be a woman in the twenty-first century. I will demonstrate that Jolie’s star body, imbued with specific connotations of maternity, fertility and sexuality, communicates wider issues of femininity that can be understood across cultures and spaces, due to the archetypal intelligibility of the fairy tale crone.
“Deconstructing the ‘Crone’: Meryl Streep, Ageing and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema”
Katie Newstead and Sabine Starmanns (University of Exeter, UK)
We will examine the figure of the ‘crone’, which is represented in contemporary cinema in various controversial ways: as ugly and malevolent witch or the overlooked, often dismissed and silenced old woman. In order to escape these negative stereotypes, the majority of older female stars attempt to defy their bodies’ natural decline by maintaining the illusion of youth, for instance, through the use of various age-defying treatments, such as cosmetics or surgery. This enables such stars as Sharon Stone and Julianne Moore to select roles that may not fit with their chronological age.
On the other hand, Meryl Streep, who will be our case study, seems to have embraced the ageing process by refusing to submit to the pressures placed upon women to appear youthful. Streep seems to have chosen roles that do not rely on her looking young or glamorous; instead, some of her characters have qualities that are traditionally associated with wisdom and life experience. In this youth-obsessed culture, the assumption is that there is no place for the older woman, yet Meryl Streep appears to demonstrate that this may not be the case. Does Streep allow for a more visible and multi-faceted representation of the ‘crone’ in contemporary Hollywood cinema?
Resistance of the Gaze: Women’s Self-Im/Aging
Magdalena Olszanowski (Concordia University, Canada)
Our ostensibly ubiquitous image-based technology culture is an affront to the aging population. Its image/inary of aging women depends on a lack of access to technologies for these women as well as their hyper-invisibility in various media (Meagher, 2014).
What tactics are women using to resist this ageist culture? For this multimedia presentation, I will foreground the multiplicity and incoherence of the gaze by asking how aging women challenge conventional patterns of looking and subsequently demonstrate pleasure in being looked at via image-based technologies. I will use two examples (with a focus on the latter): 1) the feminist resistance of aging self-imaging artists (Suzy Lake, Martha Wilson); 2) the feminist activist imaging work I do with elders in Montreal. The two streams are starting points to attempt to shift and re-organize the boundaries of the image, the gaze, and the creative lived experience of aging women.
This research and activism is an expansion of my ethnographic work of women artists and their boundary pushing work on the internet and image-based mobile social networks in spite of modes of censorship (Olszanowski, 2014). To which I ask: How can ageing women re-shape our knowledge of image-based technologies and their use?
Dora Parramon and Mercè Riera: the Role of the Older Woman in Contemporary Soap Operas
Maricel Oró Piqueras (University of Lleida, Catalunya, Spain)
The first Catalan soap opera, Poblenou, was aired in 1994. Its organization and planning was inspired by British soap operas, mainly Eastenders, which had had immense popularity amongst Catalan audiences in the late 1980s. The playwright Josep Maria Benet i Jornet, the main script-writer of Poblenou and of other soap operas that were also produced by the Catalan public TV and that followed its success, and who, for this reason, is often referred to as “the father of Catalan soap operas,” explained in many interviews that his main aim in working on this genre for TV was to “introduce new values and make the [Catalan] audience more tolerant”.
In her work on women and the soap opera, Christine Geraghty argues that precisely the extended form of this TV genre, both in time and consequent plots, has contributed to a wider representation of women in terms of their age, personality traits and social background, as well as personal and professional interests and concerns. This partly applies to Catalan soap operas, insofar as shows like Poblenou and most of the TV series that followed it between the 1990s and 2000, namely, Secrets de família, Nissaga de Poder and El cor de la ciutat, had prominent older female figures in their fictional worlds. However, the role of mature and older women within these first Catalan soap operas was quite restricted. In the examples aforementioned, it mainly fell within the stereotype of the matriarch, which was especially manifested in the depiction of caring mothers and grandmothers who, if needed, were ready to surpass moral and legal boundaries in order to protect their families at all costs.
Two more recent soaps, Ventdelplà (2005-10) and La Riera (2010—) have started to broaden this restriction by expanding the dramatic possibilities of their older female protagonists. These two shows present important women characters in their mid-sixties –Dora Parramon in the case of Ventdelplà, and Mercè Riera, the central figure of La Riera- who own their own business (the only supermarket in a small village, and an upper-class restaurant in a coastal town, respectively), and who are also mothers of grown-up children. Initially based on the cultural stereotypes of the narrow-minded older woman of rural background and the sexist and ageist cliché of the manipulative and even monstruous mother, Dora and Mercè’s characterizations evolve towards more positive representations of the older woman as the two soap operas unfold. An important part of their evolution, however, emerges from the cognitive illnesses they both suffer in the last or advanced seasons of the series, which destabilize and highly condition the narrative of female ageing they construct.
In this presentation, a textual analysis of the evolution of these two characters and their respective subplots aims to show to what extent “new values” which have to do with a new understanding of age and femininity are reflected in recent Catalan soap operas. At the same time, the gradually pathologizing depiction of the older woman in both of them, together with the persistence of the “monstrous” older-woman figure through the most recent example, indicates to what extent Catalan soap operas are still far from contributing to the creation of a “more tolerant” audience in Catalunya, and, especially, from reflecting the experience of female ageing in any modern society like the Catalan one from a more diverse and authentic perspective.