Reading Week Meeting

We met this week in the sun on the Somerset House riverfront embankment to further look at honing and focusing our work. There are some anxieties around having direction and focus that we attempted to remedy, but ultimately agreed that they would be resolved in the coming weeks.

We recapped on our aims from the end of the last session by checking in if anyone had found some new materials and discussing the documentary “Growing Up Coy“. Rory began some interesting discussion around the presentation of Coy’s mother in the film and how it doesn’t really present the legal aspects of the case, with more of a focus on the media attention. There was a feeling that more input from the school district would have made it more interesting. It was noted that the film doesn’t present very much material to quote for our research, but it does trigger some worthy debate and analysis of the topics we are looking at.

I wondered out loud if it were useful to consider the activity of trying to harmonise the identity politics around those who do not conform to the gender binary and neoliberal capitalist democracy, or a debate around this as our presentation. I considered that a move to thinking of formulating some sort of manifesto to harmonise or rally against oppressive structures could be a useful way of thinking about the project, but this was not liked by the rest of the group and our direction will be dictated by the research material we focus on next week.

Freddie came to the session with some quotes and readings from the work of Jacob Breslow. He gave us two quotes that could help us formulate a clearer directional research question, they were as follows:

‘the man be considered in the man, and the child in the child’ Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. (1762) Emile. Nugent (trans.) London: Nourse and Vaillant. (pg.80)

childhood is still in the process of becoming dispersed among non-hegemonic populations through unresolved legacies of, and contemporary enactments of, what Foucault sweepingly calls “conflicts” (1978: 126).‘ Jacob Breslow. (2016) The Theory and Practice of Childhood: Interrogating Childhood as a Technology of Power. A thesis submitted to the Gender Institute of the London School of Economics and Political Science for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Leah presented some very interesting readings on toilets as a potential case study to unify our interests. They are spaces that inculcate the gender binary in children, as when at school they are directed to use male OR female toilets, usually dictated by their birth gender. There are studies that show an improvement in school work and well-being when the pressure of choosing which gendered space the child has to use is removed, making it the choice of the child which space they use (sources to follow). Historically, toilets have also been spaces of racial segregation alongside that of gender; and somewhat of a haven for gay males when homosexuality has been illegal with the practices of cottaging and cruising.

The meeting of public and private space, which involves public and private bodies is a worthy cross section that reveals structures of power and bias that often go unnoticed. By analysing this space of public toilets (with a focus on those in schools) it gives us the opportunity to subvert traditional notions and make visible some of what the social and state law hides. It fits well into our current working bibliographies, and topic of the conflict between state and individuals; which is distilled into exploring legal approaches to and interactions with gender non-conforming youth.

The decision was made to refine our terms of trans and non-normative to gender non-conforming. This allows us to be less prescriptive with projecting identities, genders, and body politics onto subjects and individuals. As a term, it allows us to be respectful and inclusive for those who operate outside and against the gender binary, but also those who identify in contrast to the gender they were assigned at birth.

We need to find out if a discussion of our methodology will be needed in our presentation.

Our task for next week is to mine for useful quotes and sound-bites that can focus our question and critique moving forward.

Week 3 Summary

Following from last week a selection of research areas and questions were presented. They were as follows:

  1. How do representations of masculinity in Disney films display heteronormative, patriarchal ideals? Does this influence formation of identity, and views of gender politics throughout childhood?
  2. With the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 what is the relationship between male rights and privilege? Could these events be a reaction to the loss of either/both?
  3. In the Channel 4 show Genderquake, what role does the media play in polarising discussions around gender politics? How does this influence perceptions of gender and identity in the wider public? (Focus on the conflict between second and third wave feminism)

With these prompts we went on to discuss the links and viability of each of these areas as possible sites for research:

The exploration of feminist theory critiquing the bodied-ness of masculinity, which it works against and moves away from. This is a potential source for the conflict between second and third wave feminism.

The formation of identity and self in childhood through the influence of Disney media. The potentiality for a unified theory to unite our disciplines, such as a “prince charming” theory being one of hetero-normative patriarchal gender performance. How Disney is performed in the playground?

A connection was made last week’s discussion with the possibility of talking to journalists writing about trans and non-binary gender identity politics. This would explore trans identity in childhood and the narratives surrounding this. It was suggested this could be a way of connecting with Mermaids UK for research and interviews.

Around each of these we noticed common influences could be compartmentalised into media, school, and family.

We worked on these areas seeking links between them and declared where each of our interests lay. Then we moved to focus these into a working research question/area;

CONFLICT BETWEEN NORMATIVE AND NON-NORMATIVE IDENTITIES THROUGH CHILDHOOD

With the sub genres as mens rights & toxic masculinityDisney & childhood, and trans rights. With these in place we each took a sub genre to read around and bring a brief bibliography with us to the next session.

It was flagged that some caution should be held in mind in this research with a possible problem of falling into a hole of prescribing identity to childhood where the self is very much in formation. With a danger of pathologizing the slightest non-gender conforming behaviours. An interesting moment at the end of our session was a brief discussion around the political utility of populations to have normative identity.