Looking Back on Kaleidoscope

As you might have noticed, we held our inaugural conference on Monday, 5 June 2017. To save repetition I haven’t mentioned all researchers by name, but a full list of the abstracts from the day can be found here. For the live tweets, search for #PGRNSKaleidoscope, and for my take on the day, read on.

We chose the theme ‘Kaleidoscope’ to represent the myriad aspects involved in gender research. We wanted to display the interplay between these methods and subjects (something that often goes overlooked without interdisciplinary conferences such as these) and we certainly got what we were looking for. 16 gender researchers from various different Scotland institutions, and from numerous disciplines, came along to present their work. The day opened with three papers concerned with ‘Contemporary Feminist Challenges’: a comparison of restrictive abortion laws in Ireland and El Salvador, eco-feminism and the writing of Rachel Carson, and how to topple ‘Trump Tower’ by better understanding the US president’s phallic masculinity.

Our second panel was a combination of the ‘Beauty and Relationships’ panel and ‘Transgressing Gender Norms’ panel. I was chairing this panel – another first – and I’m happy to report it went smoothly, I didn’t forget anyone’s name and no one ran over! First, we heard about the trade-offs people make when picking a mate (turns out men and women aren’t as shallow as we guessed they might be). Then we learnt about the imagined futures and shared histories of beauty school students – stop singing that Grease song. From the ‘Transgressing Gender Norms’ panellist, we then heard about how Laurence Olivier employed a Freudian approach to acting, creating a new queer lover character in British and American cinema.

After lunch, it was time to make choices because we had two sets of double panels. ‘Women in Leadership’ was up against ‘Cross-Cultural Communications’ with a happily even spread of attendance between both. Topics across the two ranged from female-led households in Mullaittivu, Sri Lanka, to the feminist channels of communication that led Greenham Common to influence the Danish Femø Island. I was chairing ‘Women in Leadership’ so the choice was predetermined for me. In ‘Women in Leadership’ we had a healthy discussion about the need for shared parental leave, with disagreement on whether the carrot or the stick was the best way forward. PGRNS’ very own Alison McNaughton presented a paper on her research for the ‘Cross-Cultural Communications’ panel. Her paper was focused on the feminist publications Vindicación Feminista and Off Our Backs, and is part of the wider, Leverhulme funded international research network, ‘Translating Feminism’.

Our final set of panels concerned ‘Intersections of Race and Gender’ and ‘Challenging Gender Norms’. This time I chose ‘Intersections of Race and Gender’, and there was a great mix of subjects. A study of the publications of Joseph Conrad let us make the dead white men work for us; we explored the subjectivity in the silences of Satyajit Ray’s 1960 adaptation of Devi; and finally, the need for decolonisation of the anti-Female Genital Cutting campaigns was highlighted, as well as why we should be calling it FGC, not FGM. While I can’t speak so much for the ‘Challenging Gender Norms’ panel, they left having made the decision that the next PGRNS event would be a drag show –  so I think it went quite well.

The day ended with a wine reception and discussions about what was involved in being a PGRNS committee member. We’re currently looking for new members to join next year’s committee, and an application from any discipline would be gratefully received (the deadline is 5 pm on June 30). We also talked about lots of great ideas for future PGRNS events – first of which will definitely be that Drag Show, so watch this space! Early responses from our follow-up survey have been incredibly encouraging too: “useful due to the interdisciplinary focus” | “it helped my feel more confident about my own approach” | “a writing retreat could be very useful and fun” | “a public speaking clinic could be useful for those of us still new to the academic scene” | “it might be nice to have a rotating ‘coffee hour’ for folks to meet one another”

– Ashley Dee Paton

Contributions have been edited for length and clarity.

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