Abstracts of Debating the Difference

The following papers from Debating the Difference are available as PDF files. Biographical details of all authors are also available.

  1. Re-Presenting Heroines: Gender Between Word and Image

    • Nancy Pedri: Failing the Feminine: Photographed Words in Lincoln Clarkes' Heroines
      This article examines the function of words that appear within the borders of photographic portraits in relation to questions of gender and identity. A close reading of Lincoln Clarkes' photographs leads to the conclusion that photographed words are a particular sort of background space in so far as they are prominent in their contribution to the image's overall signification. Once coupled with a female subject who openly performs her gendered identity, the common city signs and billboards are no longer popular urban marks whose particularity - whose very message - is easily overlooked. Instead, the coupling transforms (or unveils) the commercial writing not only into a thing worth seeing and contemplating, but also into a signifier of gender and identity. The words work alongside the photographed subject to shape personal identity in contradistinction to prevailing attitudes informing the female body and the female identity. Ultimately, they help communicate a failure of the feminine.
    • Julia Round: "Can I call you Mommy?" Myths of the feminine and superheroic in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's Black Orchid
      This article uses Claude Lévi-Strauss's linguistic theories to examine the intersection of superheroic and feminine myths in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's Black Orchid. It reveals how this text substitutes traditionally feminine tropes (such as mothering, passivity and purity) and taboos for the more usual elements underlying the superhero myth, and explores the effects of this replacement. It is the contention of this article that, to date, the superheroine myth has followed a similar structure to the superhero myth. Figures such as Wonder Woman fight and lead alongside their male counterparts, using masculine notions of leadership and camaraderie. Elements such as idealised physiques apply equally to both genders and the majority of superpowers seem gender-neutral. Of course the number of male superheroes certainly outweighs the female, and gender stereotypes have been used (the cover of Adventure Comics #401 shows Supergirl 'absolutely terrified of a mouse!'), but overall the same (masculine) notions underpin both male and female superheroes. It often seems that the feminised superheroic has yet to be fully constructed and explored. This article will initially summarise Lévi-Strauss's linguistic model of myth, before applying the same to the traditional superhero myth in order to reveal its underlying binaries and gender bias. It then applies this model to Black Orchid. Areas addressed will include the superhero and violence (via an exploration of feminine passivity and the motif of the climactic battle), the superhero and power (considering myths such as Mother Nature and the motherland), and the superhero and identity (using a case study of the May Queen). It concludes that Black Orchid's subversion of the superhero is achieved by its employment of feminine myths, and that in so doing it is able to resolve the power conundrum and identity fracture that underlie this genre.
    • Norman Watson: Text and Imagery in Suffrage Propaganda
      This study uses one of Britain's finest collections of suffrage-related memorabilia to examine the impact imagery made on the historic campaign to win votes for women. Focusing on the period of destructive suffragette activity in the opening years of the twentieth century, the paper uses contemporary images to explore the way women were represented in pro- and anti-suffrage iconography. At its core are picture postcards whose "Golden Age" coincided with the heightened period of militancy. These are used to illustrate and explain how women suffragists were portrayed pictorially to an expanding Edwardian audience. It shows how women's suffrage organisations harnessed the propaganda value of picture postcards as a visual corrective to what they saw as a misleading image of their campaign orchestrated by anti-suffrage opponents; and also how postcard illustrations were diverted by anti-suffragists to show that women's votes would prove disastrous for family life and society at large. The paper also demonstrates how early postcards communicated political messages while at the same time providing an "eyewitness" commentary on the campaign for votes with an immediacy that brought alive the vitality of the movement. The paper concludes that the verbal debate of the campaign was tightly bound to the imagery used to develop it in pictorial form as both suffragists and anti-suffragists diverted the powerful propaganda possibilities of picture postcards to their own political ends.
  2. Gender Crossings: Performance and Translation

    • Marissia Fragkou: Theatrical Representations: Gender Performativity, Fluidity and Nomadic Subjectivity in Phyllis Nagy's Weldon Rising and The Strip
      This paper seeks to explore the intersections of gender, performance, performativity and nomadic subjectivity by means of examining two characters who appear in drag in Phyllis Nagy's Weldon Rising (1992) and The Strip (1995). Setting out from Butler's idea of drag as a mechanism that uncovers the falsity of the existence of a "natural" gender identity, I consider its relation to certain Brechtian techniques which have been used in materialist feminist theatre in order to foreground gender construction. Regardless of Butler's intimation that drag is not subversive in a theatrical context I wish to argue for the interventionist potential of drag and gender performativity in the context of performance. I further extend my discussion by suggesting how Rosi Braidotti's theory on "nomadic subjectivity" may complement Butler's notion of fluidity of identity and drag in relation to my two case studies. I am particularly interested in how Braidotti addresses the political implications of fluidity in the context of postmodern society, by underscoring the nomadic subject's need to make connections with his/her context.
    • Marion Wynne Davies: A Touching Text: Dundee, Tehran and The Winter's Tale
      This essay explores the changes undertaken by the Dundee Repertory Company on their production of The Winter's Tale, when they performed the play at Fajr International Drama Festival in Tehran. The essay begins with an account of the 2001 presentation in Dundee, focussing upon the way in which the director, Dominic Hill, interpreted the play to emphasise comic exuberance and female autonomy. The second part explores the necessary decisions made by Hill and the cast to ensure that the play could be performed in Tehran, alterations that undercut the earlier focus upon humour and women's roles in society. The paper concludes with an interrogation of how political and artistic discourses are inextricably bound together in twenty-first century theatre.
    • June Waudby: Anne Locke, Mary Sidney and the "hungry dogge"
      In the early modern period the concept of female authority was severely compromised by a society which considered women to be ruled by their passions and dominated by their physiology. The overwhelmingly patriarchal ideology of the era required modesty, obedience and self-censored speech of its women. This did not encourage women's writing, the most public of speech acts. Religious translation, however, could be considered compliant with the prescribed model of femininity to some extent: an activity pious and chaste, if not silent. This paper examines some of the problems arising from the common assumption that the work of female early modern translators of religious material has an uncomplicated equivalency, which requires little further interrogation. The contrasting approaches to religious paraphrase adopted by two Protestant female poets, Anne Locke and Mary Sidney, reveal startling differences of strategy and resulting effect. Briefly outlining Locke's paraphrase of the 51st Psalm as a model of austere Calvinist methodology, the paper goes on to consider Mary Sidney's own approach. The work of the two poets is distanced by fundamental differences, the most obvious of which is the establishment of Protestantism as the state religion upon Elizabeth I's accession to the throne; but there is also dissimilarity of basic purpose and of social degree.
  3. Engendering Transgression: Women, Violence and Criminality

    • Felicity Donohoe: "Hand him over to me and I shall know very well what to do with him": The Gender Map and Ritual Native Female Violence in Early America
      Native North American women occupy a relatively small portion of colonial American and Canadian historiography, and often appear as handmaidens to masculine endeavour in the dynamic age of colonisation and expansion. The construction of their image relied heavily on Euro-American conceptions of recognised femininities but accounts of Native women's warfare activities challenged these preferred images of exotic temptresses or 'squaw' drudges. Much of the evidence now indicates that indigenous peoples recognised a far more complex and nuanced femininity, and such concepts of alternative gendered behaviour present a significant challenge to present historical (mis)constructions of native female identities.
    • Heather M. Morgan: Visions and Visibility: Gender, Crime and Difference
      This essay deals with the idea of images and imaginations of gender in relation to surveillance practices and, therefore, criminalisation. Within these, it looks to identify issues of preconceptions, perceptions and interpretations towards and against women and men, particularly in terms of their difference(s). It also addresses notions of social constructions, gender (re)productions and cultural norms, according to those differences. The essay deals with the main aspects of related discourse by referring to, and analysing the literature within, the topics of surveillance, crime and gender. It attempts to question the relationships between these three and to investigate them as they occur within a "natural environment". Indeed, the essay reports on an empirical, observation-based project, which includes references to the words and impressions of those employed in the sphere of (potential) criminal surveillance and the (re)creation of (male) criminality. As such, this contribution endeavours to debate criminological gender difference(s), both in surveillance theory and practice.

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