Summer School 2017

6th Annual International Summer School, WAM 10 Year Anniversary,

27th, 28th & 29th June 2017

Collected Abstracts

“Retired, Extremely Dangerous and Female: Helen Mirren Kicking Ass in R.E.D.”

Lisa-Nike Bühring, University of Gloucestershire, UK,

Hollywood action films typically tell stories of dominant and active men fighting evil while women are presented as passive but outstandingly attractive bystanders who need male protection and rescue. The appearance of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien marked a significant turn in the depiction of women in action films. Ripley and her successors in Terminator, Lara Croft or Resident Evil are, contrary to generic conventions, staged as resourceful, active and physically as well as mentally strong heroines whose muscularity and behaviour match their male counterparts’.  However, and not surprisingly, given Hollywood’s obsession with female youth and beauty, action heroines are predominantly much younger than action heroes. This is also true for the recently commercially highly successful ‘geriaction’ films in which all main and many supporting roles are filled by aged action heroes while older women are entirely excluded from the cast. The action comedy R.E.D. is an exception to this rule. Helen Mirren as Victoria Winslow and at the time of filming 65 years is portrayed as active, forceful and competent older woman who is, in every respect, on a par with her male teammates. Her depiction neither conforms to genre conventions nor is it typical for the media portrayal of female ageing which is typically characterised by notions of decline, frailty and dependence. My analysis is, hence, aimed at understanding the strategies used to transform cultural narratives of female decline in older age into stories of success which are accepted and indeed embraced by audiences around the globe.

“Rebel Rousers or Old Ladies in Silly Hats?  How the Raging Grannies Are Portrayed in the Canadian Press”

Linda T. Caissie, St. Thomas University, Canada,

The Raging Grannies are older women activists who dress in stereotypical “granny” attire and use satirical songs as their tools of protest.   This study emerged from research I conducted on the Raging Grannies that examined the meaning of activism in the lives older women. One theme that emerged from the data was how the Grannies thought others, including the media, viewed older women activists.   I decided to pursue this further and explore how the Raging Grannies are portrayed in news coverage.   Ten Canadian newspapers were selected and articles from the past 20 years are being thematically analyzed.  Although the analysis is not completed, I do have preliminary findings.   One theme is the positive discourse used by the news coverage when describing the Raging Grannies, for examples: “fiery grannies”, “angry seniors”, and “Canada’s favourite social activists”.  Some news reports describe what the Grannies wear and the songs they sing, but without obvious mockery.   Some of the articles describe the Raging Grannies’ protests as an “uprising”, a “rage”, “to be commended”.     Another theme that is emerging is the variety of social issues Raging Grannies are involved in, such as anti-war, healthcare, poverty, environment, etc.   To date, news coverage tends to use a positive discourse when discussing the Raging Grannies with no use of aging stereotypes. Only one news report so far, used a negative discourse when describing the Raging Grannies as “pathetic” and “anarchists” when discussing the irony of protestors.    Otherwise, thus far, the Raging Grannies are being portrayed as rebel rousers.

“Noisy Women, Awakening the Goddess: Bealtaine at Uisneach 2017”

Caroline Coyle, University of Gloucestershire, UK,

On May 6th 2017, thirteen older women including myself, participated in a celebration of Bealtaine, one of the Celtic festivals of the Seasons, at Uisneach, the mythological and sacred centre of Ireland.  The aim of this autoethnographic study is to explore a co-constructive poetic Inquiry into older women’s experiences of identity at the Bealtaine festival, in the Royal Palace at Uisneach. In the month prior to the gathering, I had interviewed the twelve women with the question, ‘How do you feel about your identity as an older women?’ and provided each with a journal asking them to reflect upon their answers, through poetry, narratives and thoughts. Participating in this celebration at Uisneach, is hugely symbolic in the exploration of older women’s identity. In Irish mythology, Éiru, the Sovereign Goddess of Ireland, is honoured by the lighting of the Bealtaine Fire.  Also, Uisneach is known as the mythical 5th province of Míde, with a gate to the otherworld, accessed at ‘Ail na Mireann’ (The Stone of Divisions), the resting place of Éiru, whom Ireland, (Éire), is named after. Responses to the question of older women’s lived experiences of identity resulted in a day into evening of wonderful noise; voices, poems, narratives, stories and music. Poems were recited, co constructed and through a workshop;   collaboratively morphed into a communal poem.   In response to my Éiru poem, an original composition for the violin was played; and art works, including life poem maps and poems encased in encaustic art; were created.   The findings are represented in a multimedia presentation, photographs, short film, poetry, art and music.

“We’re sick and tired of being dismissed by people like you” Talking back to Ageism in Grace and Frankie

Linda M. Hess, University of Frankfurt, Germany,

In my presentation I will look at the recent Netflix series Grace and Frankie (2015 – 2017), which is streaming its third season this month (March 2017). The series showcases two aging “noisy women” as its protagonists. At the show’s beginning, Grace and Frankie have to cope with their husbands’ three-fold confession that a) they are gay, b) they have had a secret relationship with each other for years, and c) they want to get divorced from their wives so they can marry each other. This means an unexpected and deep rift in race and Frankie’s lives as they are harshly confronted with their new identities as aging single women in an ageist world, and it results in an unlikely friendship and developing business partnership between the two women. Working with research by age studies scholars such as Margaret Gullette and Barbara Marshall, as well as concepts from queer studies, I argue that the show’s portrayal of Grace and Frankie simultaneously works against the decline-narrative of aging and negotiates the difficult and ambiguous terrain of successful aging. Most significantly, however, I will illustrate in my talk how the show frames Grace and Frankie as the true “queer” couple – rather than their husbands, who are in a romantic relationship with each other – and thus queers narratives of aging by disturbing heteronormative narratives of the linear life course, and thus provides new ways of talking back to ageism.

“She would’ve been a good woman’: Noisy Southern Women in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor”

Anneliese Heinisch, University of Graz, Austria,

Women’s literature of the American South is hardly recognized for its strong, feisty women protagonists, perhaps with the exception of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. However, there is a line of southern women writers who have brought forth far more complex and probing women protagonists that articulate their opinions and take matters into their own hands in a society that tries to deny them of their agency. Particularly US southern writer Flannery O’Connor’s works of fiction frequently focus on outspoken single or widowed women who come to embody different gender roles in a highly gendered society (Smith 1994: 35). Some of her literary texts exhibit elderly female protagonists that voice their concern over societal developments, even in social settings where their behavior is often perceived as rude. My contribution would like to discuss these ‘noisy’ women and suggest that, on one hand, they complicate demarcations between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and on the other, their loud being bears testimony to a tradition of racial and social oppression that has already begun to dissipate. In my presentation, I would like to focus on how these women structure and make sense of their lives and how they make themselves heard. ear Anniversary

“Responding and Reacting to the Lives of Prominent Older Women: Life Stories, Photography and Performance”

Vicky Hodgson, University for the Creative Arts, UK,

The ambition of my practice based research is  to question if high achieving older women can campaign on ageing issues, how can other women to be encouraged to do so as well? The last decade, or so, has seen the emergence of publications by high achieving women writers including Joan Bakewell, Harriet Harman and Germaine Greer either making their views on ageing known or campaigning on women and ageing issues. In addition, artists and photographers including Cindy Sherman, Felicity Allen and Rosy Martin have made work relating to the ageing female body. The central focus of my research will be my case studies that will ideally be derived from the above cohort of high achieving women. I will engage in dialogue with my case studies, collecting details about their lives and ideas and attitudes to ageing. This data will become the foundation to which I will respond and react to when developing my photographic practice and writing my thesis. I will investigate how my research can inspire other women to campaign on issues of ageing by forming focus groups, exhibiting my photographs in public places as well as in art galleries and disseminating the findings to feminist groups and relevant academic conferences including WAM. 

“Older Women Rock!”

 Leah Thorn, Keele University, UK,

‘Older Women Rock!’ is an initiative creating pop-up political art spaces to raise awareness and explore issues facing women in early old age [late 50s to early 70s]. Through poetry, performance, retro clothes and film, the project celebrates early old age women, unites them across differences, challenges their invisibility and subverts society’s assumptions and prejudices about them. ‘Older Women Rock!’ arose out of a ten-month Leverhulme Trust artist residency undertaken by spoken word poet Leah Thorn in 2015 on the theme of ageing at the Kent Academic Primary Care Unit, University of Kent and in the England Centre for Practice Development, Canterbury Christ Church University. Leah is currently expanding this work through a Keele University Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences Fellowship, supported by the Keele Centre for Ageing Research and Keele University’s Directorate of Engagement & Partnerships. This new project combines the development of  poetry-writing and peer counselling skills to elicit the expression and presentation of women’s ageing-related experiences and concerns and to build supportive connections in later life. In a twenty minute presentation Leah will share the processes and ideology underpinning the project; show a clip from a documentary film and some pieces of ‘Older Women Rock!’ poetic/clothing and perform poetry that highlights issues such as lack of media representation, sexuality and the beauty industry’s influence on self-esteem and self-image.

“The Reclaiming of Personal Space in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine

Oana Ursulesku, University of Graz, Austria, / University of Novi Sad, Serbia,

The re-writing of the Blanche Du Bois character from Elia Kazan’s 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire – Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning 2013 film Blue Jasmine, faces us with a character whose troubled self-image might have rather been built in the 1950s than in early 21st century: the internalized ‘double standards of aging’ (Sontag) give form to this character’s anxiety about her age and social status.

Both Blanche Du Bois and Jasmine are presented as mentally troubled, ‘fallen women’: Blanche loses her reputation after a scandalous love affair, Jasmine loses hers after her husband is sent to jail and she is stripped of all her fortune. Both are of an age undefined, yet regarded in their social circles as too advanced for advancement. For both, the spatial paradigm of being a homeless outsider, after having owned and inhabited spaces with numerous privileges, situates them on the outskirts of what their social milieu, but also they themselves, see as normative behavior. Moreover, being unmarried, childless, past the ‘golden age’, slightly deranged, and finally forced out of their homes – they have no private space assigned to them, becoming physical and moral outcasts – a fact that they ambiguously internalize and resist at the same time. Both films raise specific questions of class, gender, and age, and paint characters torn between the urge to reach what they themselves regard as an acceptable social status, and the need to keep up appearances and reclaim power over the way this process takes place. This paper proposes to look at specific spatial paradigms as metaphors for the stock character of the unmarried and destitute woman, and question whether the new spaces she adopts and reclaims as her own are an attempt at (re)defining her own social and cultural position, or if they only reinforce the existing prejudice related to eligibility and appropriateness when it comes to age and gender.

“The Ageing Experience of Women in the UK who Identified with Punk Cultures”

Alison Willmott, University of Gloucestershire, UK,

Older people are subject to cultural expectations that influence the way they act, look and spend their time. My research will focus on women aged 50+, who identified with Punk. Boundaries of age are notoriously difficult to define and the widely used ‘middle age’ is not exempt from this, nor from restrictive expectations of appearance, behaviour and leisure pursuits. This is particularly problematic for women, who are subject to gendered expectations throughout their lives, not least their appearance. Cultural Gerontology enables age to be examined through the lens of culture, looking at how the depiction of older people, and the impact of ageism, contributes to their experience of age. The subculture of punk came into being in the UK in the late 1970s, notorious for its anti–authority attitude, DIY ethos (anyone can have a go at anything) and the unconventional appearance of those associated with it. Existing research on ‘ageing punks’ has so far failed to capture the experiences of women, reflecting a lack of interest in more domestic spheres, the places that women often spend their time throughout the lifecourse. Findings nonetheless suggest that punk identities, lifestyles and practices endure into ‘middle age’, providing an alternative to the narrow view of ‘ageing’ that public discourse holds. Punk, as a genre that advocated a DIY, non-conformist approach to music, lifestyle, and appearance, may have had a lasting impact for the women influenced by it, potentially their ability to resist conforming to wider social expectations of ageing. If punks retain a spirit of nonconformity, what shape, if any, does this take in older age?

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