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Showing posts with label motherhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label motherhood. Show all posts

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Continuing to get out and about

This week there was a lovely book launch at the Artworkers' Guild in Queen Square of Carol Dyhouse's exciting new book, Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women (Zed Books):
Horror, scandal and moral panic! Obsession with the conduct of young women has permeated society for over a hundred years. Be it over flappers, beat girls, dolly birds or ladettes, public outrage at girls' perceived misbehaviour has been a mass-media staple with each changing generation.
 O so very true. It just goes round and around. A journalist was asking me about 50 Shades of Grey the other day, and my mind immediately went to a rather obvious, when you think about it, historical parallel, EM Hull's notorious The Sheik, with its sado-masochistic themes and very similar plot trajectory (now available free through the good offices of Project Gutenberg).

From girls to ordinary devoted mothers: yesterday evening to an excellent and very thought-provoking paper by Anne Karpf in the Psychoanalysis and History seminar series, 'Constructing and addressing "the Ordinary Devoted Mother": Winnicott's BBC broadcasts, 1943-62', which I found particularly fascinating for its elucidation of the important part played by his BBC radio producers, Janet Quigley and Isa Benzie, in the production, not just in style but in content, of these broadcasts, which formed the foundation of Winnicott's acclaimed work on motherhood and good enough mothering, and eventually published by Penguin as The Child, the Family and the Outside World. My mind went to a rather tangential place about women and BBC radio, following some archival encounters with Hilda Matheson's work in the 30s and a paper at the Women's History Network conference last year on early women's work at the BBC, and this possible unsung tradition of women pioneers in the field. But it was also interesting about the circumstances of production as very situated within a particular (popular) context rather than within the more elevated realms of psychoanalytic theory.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Looking back at the Berks, before it all fades entirely

Panels I attended:

'The True Sex? cases of gender ambivalence and their impact in Europe'; four papers, one on the various later  redeployments of the tale of Phaethousa the bearded lady in the Hippocratic corpus; two on cases of 'hermaphroditism' in late C19th Denmark (covering some of the same material but with a different slant); the case of Lili Elbe and her (posthumously created) autobiography Man into Woman. This was a tightly run panel that worked well. Papers very much about how society uses stories of gender ambivalence for various purposes.

'Healthy babies, healthy families: generations of health care in South Asia': this also had four papers, but could have done with rather stricter moderation as the session ran out of time - it was already at time when the discussant started to comment. This was a pity, because they were all very interesting pieces in themselves: the politics of milk and infant welfare in early C20th Madras; reconstructing ideas of masculinity and fatherhood in late C19th Bengal; the role of A Pillay and the Bombay-published International Journal of Sexology within mid-C20th sexology; the time and place-specific nature of a post-Partition translation/version of the Kama Sutra


'Love, Desire, Community and Friendship: reconsidering female same-sex relationships in the early to mid C20th': this was the panel I organised and spoke on. I think it went well - the room was encouragingly full, we all kept to time, and there was good discussion. But what would I know.

'Leatherwomen's histories: international perspectives from academic and public historians': 'international' in this context actually meant the USA and Canada (and I think one of the participants had worked on curating materials in Mexico) - however, it was clear that there were distinctive differences in history and that the crisis points were not the same in these two close and fairly culturally similar milieux. Panel also shed some light on the development of communities which seemed of much wider application (from a small group looking outward, or defining itself against that larger world, to a larger but less cohesive, even riven, group). Also, issues of marginalisation of certain categories within already marginalised groups.

'Contesting the boundaries of Christian sexuality': unfortunately one panelist had dropped out (English Catholics, contraception and the response to Humanae Vitae), but the two that were left worked very well together - one on Mary Scharlieb and her emphasis on the importance of sex education in the context of social purity, and  the other on D Sherwin Bailey's elaborate theology of marriage produced at more or less precisely the mid-point of the C20th. V useful.


The Sunday morning sessions were all round-tables with precirculated papers. I hadn't actually managed to read any of the papers, but I went to the excellent and wide-ranging 'Motherhood and the State in the waning age of Empire', which covered a broad geographical range and raised a lot of exciting questions about mothering, invisible labour, the role of the state, NGOs, race, class, colonialism, ambivalence responses to apparently coercive and colonialising practices, the impact of wider global phenomena on policy, etc etc etc.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Katharine Holden, The Shadow of Marriage: Singleness in England, 1914-1960 (2007)

This is a thoroughly excellent study of the meanings of being unmarried and what it was like and the problems involved in reconstructing this fairly substantial category of the population from the sources.

It's very valuable on the different meanings ascribed to singleness in women and in men and on the relative lack of any discussion of the latter except in terms of 'gay bachelors' resisting marriage.

In terms of my recent work on my paper for the Berks on female relationships at approximately the same period (and looking at many of the same sources, and yes, wasn't Laura  Hutton rather remarkable?) I found her chapter on unmarried people (nearly all women) fostering or adopting (formally or informally) had significant resonances with the discussions of female friendship - that on the one hand it could be a valuable emotional substitute for the conventional satisfactions, but on the other there was the danger of emotional over-investment, possessiveness, domineering, etc. Also - some change over time - is seen as more potentially pathological in the post WWII era, which is also when there was shift in attitudes to unmarried mothers, from redemption through keeping the child and maternity to them being neurotic and unfit to mother and therefore the children should be adopted into 'normal' families.

Highly recommended: subtle and nuanced in its analysis, e.g. of the penalties and also the pleasures of being in a family carer role and how contextual those were.