Angela Carter and her Ecofeminist Imagination in “The Tiger’s Bride”  

“I was a young girl, a virgin, and therefore men denied me rationality just as they denied it to all those who were not exactly like themselves, in all their unreason.” (Carter 63)

Angela Carter was one of the most inventive feminist thinkers of the late twentieth century. Though she was primarily known for her fiction, her writing spanned many genres. Her most celebrated work is a book of short stories title The Bloody Chamber (1979), which is a book of feminist retellings of classic fairy and folk tales. However, it is important to note that Carter goes far beyond the standard inversion of gender norms that one might expect from such a volume. She steers clear of “strong, independent woman” feminism and instead ventures into much darker waters, thereby creating evocative critiques of the mythologies and knowledge systems that are foundational to Western society.

In this post, I’m going to be looking specifically at “The Tiger’s Bride”, which is based on the classic “Beauty and the Beast”, originally penned by the eighteenth-century French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. In this particular story, Carter is critiquing the animal/human divide that is supported by Western patriarchal idea of reason. As Val Plumwood reminds us, the backbone of Western philosophy is the all-powerful binary—male/female, human/animal, culture/nature, and so on. And within these binaries, there is always a privileged term, often that which is aligned with the “rational” (male, human, culture) (3). Aristotle, arguably the father of Western philosophy, defined man as “rational animal”, positioning humans above non-human animals by virtue of our powers of reason (Keil and Kreft). 

The story, told from Beauty’s point of view, begins with an arresting opening sentence: “My father lost me to The Beast at cards” (51). It then chronicles Beauty’s experience with the strange beast-man, his peculiar demands of her, and his desolate estate populated only by animals and woman-shaped automatons. At first, Beauty fiercely resists the Beast, desperately trying to fit him into a human-shaped mold so that she may judge him according to the standards that she’s used to. Then, there is a turning point during a horseback ride when she recognizes their shared subjugation: 

“If I could see not one single soul in that wilderness of desolation all around me, then the six of us—mounts and riders, both—could boast amongst us not one soul, either, since all the best religions in the world state categorically that not beasts nor women were equipped with the flimsy, insubstantial things when the good Lord opened the gates of Eden and let Eve and her familiars tumble out.” (Carter 63)

The narrator, or Beauty, makes the choice to remain with the Beast at the end of the story despite being free to return home to her father. However, it is not because she’s in love or otherwise coerced—it is the sense of freedom that she feels around the similarly soulless: “I felt I was at liberty for the first time in my life” (Carter 64). She stays because it’s her escape from the wicked game she was born into, wherein she is only a pawn subjected to the whimsies of men. Helen Hopcroft and Caroline Webb analyse the text as such: “By foregrounding the role that rationality plays in such binaries, Carter produces a profound critique of the postagrarian culture following the Enlightenment in which men perceived women, as well as animals, as not merely objects of dominance and consumption but as objects of exchange,” (315). 

When read through this lens, “The Tiger’s Bride” anticipates the fields of ecofeminism and animal studies. Additionally, the ideas presented in this story can be extended to any non-male, non-white “Other”, or those who are considered to be without true rational capacities. Angela Carter was a writer with incredible range who produced endlessly rich texts, and I contend that we revisit her often as we move forward with the ever-pressing work of ecofeminist organizing. 

Michaela Ashton Hayes is a master’s student in Literature and Modernity at The University of Edinburgh. She holds two B.A.s in Philosophy and English Literature from Colorado State University and originally hails from the prairies of Kansas. She has a number of research topics at the moment, but they broadly fit under the umbrella of knowledge systems, power, and 20th century feminist fiction. 

Works cited:

Carter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. Vintage Classics, 1995.

Keil, Geert, and Nora Kreft. “Human Beings as Rational Animals.” Aristotle’s Anthropology, Cambridge University Press, 2019, pp. 23–96.

Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. Routledge, 1994, doi:10.4324/9780203006757.Webb, Caroline, and Helen Hopcroft. “‘A Different Logic’: Animals, Transformation, and Rationality in Angela Carter’s ‘the Tiger’s Bride.’” Marvels & Tales, vol. 31, no. 2, 2017, p. 314, doi:10.13110/marvelstales.31.2.0314.

Queer(y)ing Feminist Approaches to Prison Research

Women in prison have higher rates of poor mental health, self-inflicted harm, and suicide rates than their male counterparts. Commonly cited reasons include struggling with separation from children and family, bullying, and unmet mental health and substance misuse needs. These differences are said to be influenced by women’s trauma histories. Many women prisoners have been victims of much worse crimes than the ones they have been convicted for, with more than half (53%) reporting experience of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as a child and a staggering 57% reporting experiences of domestic violence.

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) indicates that these figures are likely to be an underestimate due to fear of disclosure. Trauma histories often lead to what we can describe as co-morbidity of condition, suggesting a high prevalence of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse rates among prisoners. Women are far more likely to report needing help with a drug problem when entering prison and are also twice as likely as men to be identified as suffering from depression. 

As a result of these differences coming to light, we have seen an increase in support for the introduction of gender-sensitive responses. Gender-sensitive approaches are built on the understanding that women are uniquely affected by victimisation and have complex social and economic histories relating to drug use, abusive relationships, and overall poor mental health. It is also assumed that women have lower levels of education and poor job skills, while often also juggling being the primary caregiver. Therefore, it is argued that women’s prisons should reflect these complex social exclusion problems and they should be characterised by their rehabilitative nature, with less focus on security and more focus on proper officer training and treatment options. 

However, Braz (2006) argues that gender-sensitive prisons are being “sold to feminist, reformers and progressives as better for women” (p. 88), when in fact, these approaches simply serve to expand the prison industrial complex. Furthermore, Crenshaw (2012) highlights that despite a gender responsive approach recognising gender, it does little in the way of recognising how multiple identities intersect, particularly ignoring racial and sexual identities of marginalised women. Crenshaw argues that many feminist or women-centred analyses of the prison replicate the race-neutral framing of gender. Crenshaw, in documenting the experiences of women of colour and gendered violence, emphasises that systems of race, gender, and class domination converge, as they do in the experiences of battered women of colour, intervention strategies based solely on the experiences of women who do not share the same class or race backgrounds will be limited help to women who because of race and class face different obstacles (Crenshaw, 191, p. 1246). 

Feminist criminologists have gone some way in challenging the androcentrism of criminology, however, the field remains largely heteronormative with sexuality and gender binaries often taken for granted. This is of particular importance in the women’s prison estate, with an estimated 22% of this population identifying as non-heterosexual (PRT, 2021). Part of my current research builds on the nascent field of Queer Criminology and seeks to explore the relationship between space and identity in the women’s prison estate, particularly among LGBTQ+ populations. Queer criminology is both a theoretical and practical approach that aims to highlight the rejections of queer communities within criminology. While in its infancy, queer criminology strives to put LGBTQ+ populations at the centre of criminological inquiry – moving away from the “add queer and stir” approach. 

Kayleigh Charlton is a PhD student at the University of Bath. Her thesis explores the possibilities and limits of queer(ing) spaces through the lens of the women’s prison estate. Her broader research interests include gender and sexuality research more broadly, LGBTQ+ prisoners experiences and queer spatial geographies. You can find Kayleigh on Twitter @Charlton _k

Braz, R., 2006. Kinder, Gentler, Gender Responsive Cages: Prison Expansion is Not Prison Reform. Women, Girls & Criminal Justice.

Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile., 2021. Prison Reform Trust. Available at: https://prisonreformtrust.org.uk/publication/bromley-briefings-prison-factfile-winter-2021/ 

Crenshaw, K. 2012. From private violence to mass incarceration: thinking intersectionally about women, race, and social control. UCLA L Review.


Why focus on reducing women’s imprisonment? 2017. Prison Reform Trust.  Available at: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Women/whywomen.pdf

Celebrating the Imposter in the Postgraduate Research Community

I recently attended a workshop titled ‘Imposter Syndrome or Imposing Structures? Fitting In and Out of Universities’ by Professor Yvette Taylor. The workshop asked PGR attendees to think widely about imposterism, their own imposter feelings, and the role ‘imposters’ may play in higher education.

This workshop caught my attention due to my own feelings of inadequacy and imposterism within the PGR community. Being a disabled (dyslexic and Autistic) gay man, I’ve always felt education (be it primary, secondary, further, or higher education) is a place that is not for me. It is superior than me. A place I cannot enter. Much of these feelings never showed throughout my educational journey. This changed when I reached university. Instead of teachers, I was now surrounded by people who had Dr or Prof in their name. Was I, little dyslexic-Autistic Jack, supposed to be here? Secondary school teachers repeatedly told me higher education was not possible for someone like me. Maybe I should be in a call centre job (which is what I’ve been told disable people do). Despite this, I continued through undergrad and Masters with minimal worries. However, imposter feelings began rising when I considered pursuing a PhD. Was this the right path? Were disabled people ‘allowed’ to pursue a PhD? Will my disabilities hinder my success and PhD completion? Imposter feelings continued throughout the PhD proposal stage, and have followed me into my PhD. I hoped this workshop would allow me to embrace these feelings.

Of the different activities during the workshop, one grabbed my attention: picking an animal that describes us. On the face of it, this may be rather simplistic. Yet when given time to reflect back, I feel I learned a lot about myself, others, and the university environment as facilitating or diminishing imposterism. My choice of animal – a penguin. My rationale – I plod along, and if I fall into the water then (hopefully) I swim. Other choices by attendees were dogs, cats, and bears. When I heard these animals, mine felt widely different. Had I done this activity wrong? ‘Gosh, you’re at an imposter workshop and just shown everyone that you don’t understand a basic exercise!’ However, upon sitting with my choice I realised that this activity was to show that we are all different animals, from different animal families, and from different animal hierarchies. There was no right answer at all. In fact, all animals were welcomed into the workshop space. There were no restrictions on what we could choose. This calmed my nerves. Next, we were to pondering where might our animal ‘fit’ into the university space? Does the penguin even fit to begin with? If so, then why is the penguin allowed in? If not, why not? I don’t necessarily have answers to these, but rather have thoughts. I find myself constantly returning to this activity and to my animal specifically. As a new first year PhD student, there are days where I feel I am plodding along just fine. However, there are those days I feel I’ve fallen into the water, questioning if I’m right for a PhD, and desperately trying to catch my breath.

I realise now the workshop allowed for a gathering of people who similarly experience those questionable feelings associated with imposterism. Seeing such a gathering gave me comfort knowing that while we all may be different animals, we all meet and support one another in university. A place that both can allow for, and the breakdown of, imposterism. However, breakdown can only come if we accept those imposter feelings, and accept other animals into the space. I thank Prof Yvette Taylor for creating not only a workshop around imposterism, but creating an open and accepting space for all imposters. A space that celebrated the imposter, alongside the uncomfortable and even the strange. Having some time away and reflecting on this event as a whole, I feel the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ to be inadequate. I am not ill; I am a learner.

Jack McKinlay is a first year PhD student from the University of Strathclyde School of Education. His PhD is focusing on disabled-queer student experience of higher education. You can find Jack on Twitter @_jackmckinlay_ 

Revisiting Naomi Mitchison’s 1983 novel, Not By Bread Alone

As PGRNS has recently welcomed new committee members, each of them will provide an insight into their current research and interests. In this blog post, Grace revisits Naomi Mitchison’s novel Not By Bread Alone, which forms part of her current research into the speculative fiction of Scottish women writers.

In 1983, at the age of 86, Naomi Mitchison published one of her lesser-known novels Not By Bread Alone. The narrative transports us to a now not-so-distant future, where a powerful multinational corporation is close to producing free food for the entire world.

As a lifelong socialist and feminist, Mitchison draws upon the speculative imaginary to put forward and strategise political concerns which remain uncomfortably pertinent. Her work frequently utilises speculative themes and forms to convey the nature of the feminist struggle (in how it is both felt and fought), across the changing political landscape of the twentieth century.  As activist and writer Walidah Imarisha (2015) writes of speculative fiction:

Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fiction. All organising is science fiction. Organisers and activists dedicate their lives to creating and envisioning another world, or many other worlds – so what better venue for organisers to explore their work than science fiction stories?

Coinciding with the origins of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s, the publication of Mitchison’s speculative writing both spans and predates the implementation of more ‘progressive’ legislation in Britain throughout the 1970s, including the Equal Pay Act (1970), the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) and the Domestic Violence Act (1976). Enormous technological advancements also parallel her speculative novels, including the birth of Louise Brown in 1978, the world’s first baby to be born after conception by in vitro fertilisation experiment (IVF) and the world’s first successful production of a genetically modified plant in 1983, the same year that Not By Bread Alone was published.

Although not as comfortably science fiction as Mitchison’s earlier novels Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962) and Solution Three (1975), Not By Bread Alone nevertheless engages with many SF themes. These include the increasing global power of a seemingly evil corporation, the commodification of artificial reproduction (both plant and human) and the threat of ecological and social monocultures. The novel follows a group of scientists spread across continents, working on early GMOs. This research is funded by the multinational PAX corporation, as it seeks to produce a worldwide network of single strain crops. Whilst their ‘Freefood’ policy may at first appear beneficial and benevolent, the genetically modified crops soon start to present major health problems for numerous populations. The PAX Board are unconcerned by such reports:

“The potatoes.” Nobody said anything immediately. They had certainly avoided any symptoms themselves, probably because they were all in a higher income group where potatoes played less part. “We have been fortunate that there have been few deaths – so far.” (p. 125)

Not only are the new crops harmful, but those employed in agricultural sectors are no longer required to work. Large swathes of the population find themselves unemployed and alienated, cast out of the new economic structure imposed by PAX.

Mitchison contrasts the efforts of the PAX Board with the society and culture of ‘an autonomous Aboriginal State in Northern Australia’ named Murngin. The people of Murngin reject the Freefood offered by PAX and value instead a symbiotic connection to their land and the natural world. Kate Macdonald (2015) characterises the ethos and moral imperative of the novel as such: ‘If people do not have a relationship with the land and the food they grow on it, their food is worth less to them, emotionally and psychologically.’ For Mitchison, the agricultural practises of the Murngin community are therefore emblematic of a lasting connection between food production and cultural tradition which undermines notions of scientific ‘advancement’. A PAX scientist sent to survey the potential threat posed by Murngin to the new global Corporatocracy soon begins to appreciate the value of an interconnected and various ecosystem:

According to Rahul […] these people in Murngin State had some sort of relationship with the land which meant a mutual giving and assisting and respecting […] He explained that the people of this part of Australia […] had lived in a continuous eco-system for some fifty thousand years, during which various kinds of understanding had developed with others in the eco-system, both animal and vegetable and with the earth itself. (p. 82)

The more time he spends in Murngin, the more Rahul comes to view PAX as a front for ‘some kind of nasty monopoly’. (p. 150) The intersection between ecofeminism and speculative fiction is central to the novel, laying a framework for Mitchison’s passionate critique of hierarchical power structures. Speculative fiction can help to illustrate what Irene Sanz Alonso (2018) describes as ‘both the oppressive conceptual frameworks that ecofeminists seek to transform, and those of the healthy social systems that it is argued should be established in their place’. The moral and ethical imperatives of the novel acknowledge and interrogate humanity’s failure to recognise or account for ecological crisis. Val Plumwood (1993) summarises this crisis as consequence of humankind’s escalating estrangement from their ‘embeddedness in nature’ over time. Not only is there an absence of an emotional or psychological connection between humanity and the natural world but, as Sanz Alonso makes clear, the histories of oppression to which humans have subjected the environment continue to ‘run in parallel with those suffered by human and nonhuman creatures labelled the other: women, ethnic minorities, children, non-human animals, and nature, among others.’

Pockets of dissent begin to appear across the globe, as former PAX employees learn of the harm (both physical and cultural) caused by the single-strain crops and the news of Murngin’s alternative practise spreads. The PAX board continually denies wrongdoing and attempts to silence such public opposition:

“By the way, Edmund, about that letter which Anne Tomlin wrote to Nature: that can, I trust, be disregarded?” “Unfortunately,” said the Chairman, “they appear to be going to print it. But I have already alerted a couple of good names who will point out the obvious problems and difficulties. I think this too can be contained. Yes, I have no doubt.” (p. 129)

In an echo of Orwellian dystopia, dissenters can be erased, and history easily altered by those who control the narrative. Yet as the novel draws to a close, Mitchison does not leave readers without the possibility of hope. As one scientist asserts: ‘Fuck the Board […] No more PAX […] the sooner we get rid of these buggers the sooner we get on with the job.’ (pp. 150-151)

Yet many more minds must still be changed before any real challenged can be posed. Mitchison takes great care in warning her readers that such a fight will be far from easy: ‘Have we got to die for what we believe in?’ (p. 151) Returning to the novel in the year 2022, almost forty years since its publication, it is overwhelmingly apparent that this fight is far from over. It remains to be seen whether humankind is, even now, prepared to take up Mitchison’s challenge.

A new edition of Not By Bread Alone has recently been published by Kennedy & Boyd, with an introduction by Grace Borland Sinclair.

Grace Borland Sinclair is a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow, working between the Scottish Literature Department and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic. Her research explores the speculative fiction of Scottish women writers across the twentieth century. (Twitter: @roboticleaf)

Alonso, Irene S., ‘Ecofeminism and Science Fiction: Human-Alien Literary Intersections’, Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 47:1-4 (2018), pp. 216-219.

Brown, Adrienne M. and Imarisha, Walidah (eds.), Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements (Oakland: AK Press, 2015), p. 3.

Browne, Sarah, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014).

Macdonald, Kate, ‘Eco-dystopian sf curiosity: Naomi Mitchison’s Not By Bread Alone’,  About Writing, Reading and Publishing (2015) <https://katemacdonald.net/2015/10/07/eco-dystopian-sf-curiosity-naomi-mitchisons-not-by-bread-alone/> [accessed 25 February 2022].

Mitchison, Naomi, Not By Bread Alone (Glasgow: Kennedy & Boyd, 2022).

Plumwood, Val, ‘Feminism and Ecofeminism: Beyond the Dualistic Assumptions of Women, Men and Nature’, Society and Nature. 2:1 (1993), p. 97.



Catherine Carswell, Nan Shepherd, and Naomi Mitchison: Women of the Scottish Renaissance

As PGRNS has recently welcomed new committee members, each of them will provide an insight into their current research and interests. In this blog post, Domenico showcases some of the main aspects of his ongoing MLitt thesis on twentieth-century Scottish women’s fiction. 

When one looks at the canonised authors of the modern Scottish Literary Renaissance, they will be highly likely to hear about Hugh MacDiarmid, Edwin Muir, Lewis Grassic Gibbon and George Mackay Brown. Inclined to resolve questions around Scottish national identity, these writers’ works largely re-imagine Scotland’s place both at a local and global level, underlining the role of ‘minority’ languages, myth-building symbolism, and narratives around oppressed cultures. My MLitt dissertation looks back at the writing of Scottish women writers who were initially brushed aside often for the lack of openly nationalist sentiments and more frequently due to their gender. Their work started to be unearthed following waves of feminist research from the 1970s onwards to consider their contribution to women’s writing. Although my research focuses on representations of female sexuality including views on sex, marriage and motherhood, my aim is also to investigate the way these writers relate to international modernisms and the Scottish Renaissance while proposing narrative strategies that effectively subvert patriarchal ideologies and genre conventions. 

Catherine Carswell (1879-1946) was born in Glasgow from a Free Presbyterian family, and although she spent most of her life in England, she still occasionally went back to Scotland or kept in contact with many Scottish writers such as the Muirs, MacDiarmid, ‘Flo’ Marian McNeill, and Mitchison. Despite her first novel Open the Door! (1920) having received more critical acclaim, my first chapter focuses on her second novel, The Camomile (1922), written in epistolary form and collected in the form of a journal. The protagonist, Ellen Carstairs (note the similarity with Catherine’s surname) sends letters to her friend Ruby who lives in London, giving an account of her music and writing practice alongside her rebellious sexual thoughts. Carswell proposes a reworking of the traditional male Künstlerroman, communicating women’s struggle to choose between heteronormative conventions or personal ambitions, and further setting forth the idea of a female artistic tradition that recognises a plurality of women’s voices. 

Nan Shepherd (1893-1981) was born and educated in Aberdeen, where she worked as a lecturer at the Teacher Training College. My second chapter delves into her first novel, The Quarry Wood (1928), a Bildungsroman that follows the maturing of Martha Ironside from her humble rural background in North-East Scotland to her education at Aberdeen University and the first romantic experiences. My argument follows Shepherd’s revision of tropes found in male novels of development such as the protagonist’s autonomous maturing of a unified self by arguing instead that Martha’s identity depends fundamentally on the relations she has with the rural community and her family. Meanwhile, my second chapter considers the ways in which Shepherd relates to the Scottish Renaissance by looking at the transcendence of material and metaphysical boundaries (from Scotland’s physical borders to made-up fantasies around gender roles), and the connection between Martha’s body and the natural world.  

Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999) was born in Edinburgh, initially pursuing a scientific career like her father and elder brother, later dedicating herself to activism and a prolific literary career. Although published much later than Carswell and Shepherd’s novels, my third chapter will consider Mitchison’s Solution Three (1975), a science fiction novel based on a future world where heterosexuality is forbidden, homosexuality is endorsed, and reproduction happens predominantly by cloning. My interest in this novel revolves around the consideration of reproductive technology (artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation, cloning), medical interventions by a state that advocates for eugenics, and the systematic commodification of women’s bodies, the so-called ‘Clone Mums’. At the same time, I will be able to study the novel’s self-explanatory divergence from heteronormative plots and Mitchison’s feminist vision of utopia/dystopia within SF. 

Domenico Di Rosa is an MLitt student at the University of St Andrews studying Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture. His thesis looks back at the writing of early twentieth century Scottish women, focusing on their representations of women’s sexuality as well as their rejection and reworking of heteronormative literary conventions. (Twitter handle: @_domenico98)

The dangers of a ‘single story’: One-dimensional responses to a female terrorists

Looking at issues of gender, Cynthia Enloe tells us to ask, ‘where are the women’? This is a question I ask in the context of terrorism, exploring the deep-rooted failures to account for the multifaceted identity of women in the context of political violence. 

Today’s feminist movement is more diverse than ever.  In its bid to achieve equal social, political, and economic rights for women the rigid categorisations of gender which have prevailed for so long are under growing societal and academic scrutiny. To name but a few, Feminism aims to tackles issues such as violence against women, workplace discrimination, and questions dominant social structures which disempower women and marginalised groups. In pushing for freedom from stereotypes, part of the feminist message is one of diversity and the right to free thought and self-expression. Whilst this is widely – and rightfully- regarded as a positive move for women, I argue that we cannot only analyse the positive elements of female identity. What about female violence? 

Applying a feminist curiosity, we see that women are most often identified in non-violent roles. TV licence evasion was the crime for which most females were convicted of in 2019; academics and policy makers routinely discuss women exclusively in the context of auxiliary roles of terrorist organisations; and the UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security only identifies women as victims of violence and well-placed tools to prevent the radicalisation of her family members. But can’t women be violent, too? 

We know that men commit more violent offences than women, with governmental data suggesting that women account for less than 10% of terrorism convictions since 2001. But what about those women who do commit acts of violence? Alexander and Turkington find that women involved in crimes motivated by violent extremism are less likely to be arrested or convicted. But, worryingly, in the instance whereby women are sentenced or plead guilty for terrorism related crimes, they are frequently labelled as naïve, gullible, or victims of violent extremism. What accounts for this? Are women more innocent than men, or are there other forces at play?

This differential treatment is not limited to the criminal justice system. Rather, Cook and Vale find the polarisation of violent men and women is clearly visible across the media whereby portrayals of Islamic State-affiliated women tend to oscillate between “victims taken or duped by their husbands, naive ‘jihadi brides,’ or active security concerns”.  We see this notion in play when comparing the cases of Mina Dich and Safaa Boular, with the former being cast as ‘wicked’ and the latter being ‘groomed’ into committing acts of terrorism. If we relate this to the freedom of expression which is prescribed by feminism, violence committed by women continues to be interpreted in only 2 ways, symptomatic of a lack of imagination regarding the arbitrators of violence. 

Research tells us that female participation in terrorism is growing, with more women filling more roles, in more organisations. We know that women join violent groups for a variety of reasons and, often, perform several roles during their time in the group. CTED notes that, in many cases, ‘the distinction between victims and perpetrators is non-binary, and the degree of the women’s agency, and thus criminal responsibility, is unclear’. What is clear, however, is that the female experience within violence is not as simplistic as has been previously assumed. It is true that women are victims of violence, play a passive role, are groomed to joining, or systematically abused within terrorist organisations, and it is incredibly important to recognise this. But this is not the only truth, and it is dangerous to assume so. Terrorism is not a ‘single story’

These complexities appear to challenge the prevailing one-dimensional, male-centric understanding of violence upon which UK legal institutions are founded. A lack of confidence repatriating terrorist affiliated women from overseas exposes an uncertainty about risk assessment and screening processes; limited understanding of effective rehabilitation and reintegration methods; and uneven prosecution processes for women. Each of these factors are indicative of a reduced understanding of violent female offenders. 

There are debates whether women are becoming more active in terrorism or, attributed to growing numbers of women working in the field of terrorism and counterterrorism, becoming more visible. But, in either case, we cannot rely on feminism to continue to promote the further integration of women into legal positions, counter-terrorism bodies, or governmental security discussions before we consider the full range of roles which women can hold in the context of violence. 

If we ask ‘where are the women?’ here, it becomes clear that whilst they may not always be at the side-lines of violence, women have been primarily marginalised in our analyses. It is not that women are not involved in violent crime; it is that our male dominated political and legal systems are not equipped to understand and respond to these nuances of violence. The repetitive leniency of female offenders in the courts continues to inform implicit biases regarding gendered behavioural expectations and, consequently, hinders effective counterterrorism and radicalisation practices. In doing so, we not only fail to equip legal, governmental, and national security structures to deal with violent female offenders, we also neglect to protect women and girls who are vulnerable to radicalisation- fuelling a cycle of pre and post-radicalisation failures.  

Feminism looks to unlock the potential of women and marginalised groups, questioning social structures which incumber the unequal participation of social groups within wider society. It has not yet expanded to fully consider the complete range of possibilities in regards violence or gendered attributions of justice- there is much more research required to fully investigate these processes. Female violence should not be normalised, but it should be investigated and understood in equal terms to that of male violence. When we are not equipped to recognise women’s violence, we are not able to respond to it. So, where are the women? They need to be at the centre of our analysis.

Chloe Squires is a PhD student at the University of St. Andrews. Her thesis looks at gendered responses to terrorists in the British legal and criminal justice systems. Her research works at the intersection of law, terrorism, agency, and gender, with further interests including de-radicalisation programmes in pre and post-prison spaces, the social construction of terrorism, and gender in C/PVE measures.

You can find Chloe on Twitter @chlosquires

Failing to answer: ‘what will you be researching?’

Image is by Noah Buscher on Upsplash.com [https://unsplash.com/photos/M19QtooXPKs]

Christmas break 2021, I travelled back to Ireland full of gusto, ready to answer the question ‘What is your PhD about?’ with confidence and clarity. Emboldened by my bumbling and scrambling for an explanation the year before (Christmas break 2020) when the question made me anxious, ‘Periods. Sociology. Scotland’s free period products. Behaviour during our period. Inequality!’ I would exclaim in a panic to answer the question, listing buzzwords while exposing my internal confusion. 

Three days before we drove back to Scotland, I sat in my aunt’s house, with her, her husband, their three children and my partner. As we were catching up on the year since we’d seen each other last, my aunt asked: ‘What will you be researching?’. I took a breath and thought ‘go on, you said you wouldn’t shy away from proclaiming your research to anyone’, and in the same breath I recalled talking to my aunt about my work on menstruation a few years previous, which had been met with confusion but mostly understanding. Yet in my response, I stumbled, I faltered, my answer concealed my research topic. Immediately I was disappointed with myself, instead of proclaiming my research on periods, I made it small. As we drove away, my partner mentioned that he hadn’t heard me cover over my research so strangely in a long time – I agreed and for a moment, out of sheer frustration at my failure, I cried. Why had I silenced myself?

Back home in Scotland, I reflected, what had made me say that, why did I feel the need to skirt around my research, who was I avoiding being honest with? I thought ‘at least last year the word period was on repeat, albeit incoherently’. I asked myself why in this one situation did I fail, what made this setting different to the rest? I thought through who was there, my aunt, her husband, their 16-year-old daughter, their 13- and 11-year-old sons, and my partner. I imagined one by one answering the question honestly, proudly. Through this exercise, I realised the who and why: my 16-year-old cousin.

As I thought this through, I positioned my failed answer as avoiding two things, it didn’t dredge up a topic that would make her uncomfortable and by avoiding her discomfort didn’t expose her as a person who has a period. I sat with this thought and asked the same questions again – why, what and who. I realised that in the mental re-enactment of my failure, what was really, honestly, happening. At that moment, sitting with my family, during the breath I had taken before answering ‘What will you be researching?’ my 16-year-old self, projected onto my cousin, anxiously urging for discretion said, ‘Don’t bring THAT up’. 

This realisation around my perceived failure, taught me the value of reflection, of sitting in discomfort and asking questions, thinking critically about my own assumptions. But, more importantly, it reminded me of my younger self, the outwardly harsh, internally vulnerable teenager who would have felt exposed if without warning periods were being discussed around the table with my extended family.

So, my failure to be honest, to take up space, to proclaim the importance of removing periods from the shadows, has been an affective experience. As I begin data collection it has reminded me of the previous versions of myself, reminded me that we (mis)remember generously or without generosity at all. It reminded me of my confusion, my want to be independent to be capable of managing my body yet feeling utterly lost as to what to do with independence. At this stage of my research, I continually ask myself, how are my experiences shaping my research, how has my experience brought me to this research? My failure to answer ‘what will you be researching’ has helped to situate my past and present self in the answer to these questions.

Kate Molyneaux is a PhD researcher in the School of Education at the University of Strathclyde. Her current research focuses on menstrual experiences in Scotland.

December blog – ‘2021 – A Year in Review’

For our last blog of the year, a few of our members have written a brief summary of their year in research and life. Thanks to all of our contributors over the year and we look forward to creating more exciting and interesting content for you in 2022!

Karyn:

2021 for me has been a year of ups and downs – as I’m sure it has for most of us. At the end of 2020 I decided to move my PhD to part-time as my original research methods were designed to be collaborative, working with women in different women’s centres across Scotland. This was no longer possible so in order to slow down the process of carrying out my fieldwork in the hope it could continue as planned, I moved to part-time. Ultimately, I had to redesign my methods as the pandemic stretched on but moving to part-time has been a really positive change for me overall. It has allowed me to have some breathing space from the stress of attempting to do a PhD during a pandemic and also to take up different opportunities in employment and research. I have genuinely lost count of the number of jobs I have had this year (sometimes 3 or 4 at a time) which has definitely been stressful – not knowing what my income would be from one month to the next. I think we are all aware that this seems to be a feature of academia and not one we should be supportive of. On a positive note, this has allowed me to gain valuable research experience and I have worked with some really great people throughout the year. Due to having overlapping jobs and very little time, I chose to pause my PhD back in October for a few months but I am looking forward to starting back up again, refreshed, in the new year. Thankfully I am ending 2021 with a part-time job which I know is secure for at least the next 6 months (which in academia we know is a bit of a win) doing knowledge exchange work for a research centre which is challenging but a really great opportunity. I am grateful to those who supported me and helped me find employment this year to keep me going. Let’s hope 2022 is a good one for us all!

Anna V:

2021 started very promising for me writing-wise, however, I cannot really say that the initial high I had in January really translated into the rest of the year. It’s safe to say that the combination of working strictly from home without the regular coffee breaks with peers and the occasional after-writing-session-pint, on top of not being able to visit family and friends back at home in Germany and Hungary for the most part of the year, really took a toll on my productivity. It made me realise how important it is to look after myself (refereeing and working with young girls on the football pitch as done miracles for my mental health and also my tan cause apparently there is enough sunlight in Scotland to get a healthy glow, it just wasn’t in the PhD office surprisingly…) and to listen to my body to take a rest when needed. Not feeling guilty for taking a midday nap being a major achievement over this past year (there where a LOT of midday naps; I work 5am-1.15pm shifts in my part-time job so when you almost fall asleep on your way back home from work that’s a definite sign that a nap is in order). Well, it’s still a work in progress to be honest, I’m not quite there yet and still feel a bit guilty when I have a snooze after work but I’m getting there 🙂 

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Due to much of the academic world being relocated to cyberspace I had some amazing opportunities to work together with researchers from all over the world! I was lucky enough to contribute two book chapters and even got paid for the first time for a virtual panel discussion I took part in (I should not feel as surprised and ecstatic over paid academic labour but here we are)! I guess it is all about perspective, especially in a field like academia which is so precarious and ridden with uncertainty! It’s safe to say that without such a supportive network of colleagues, friends and family, overcoming the difficulties that doing a PhD in a pandemic meant (and continues to mean, we all know it’s not over just yet…) would not have been possible! 2022 – please be a good one!

Laura: 

During the Summer of 2021, I was fortunate to do an internship with SGSSS and the Scottish Government. Having completed my BA in Social Policy and Sociology, I have always had an interest in policy, politics and government. The opportunity arose at the perfect time as 2021 had started on a bad note in true academic precariousness – I had received notice that my PhD funding was due to end a year before I had expected (in July 2021, NOT July 2022) due to an ‘admin error’. Panicked, I was desperately seeking extensions and additional funding. The internship offered the opportunity to pause my studies for three months whilst receiving income from the internship. The stars aligned as I was placed within the Elections team as a researcher to undertake work on gender and politics, which happened to be the same field as my PhD. I felt as though I had a full-circle moment when I was tasked with writing a report for the Government on the same topic I had written a mock policy briefing on during my undergraduate degree. Although it was all online, I got the chance to work with an array of people, including researchers (many of whom had completed PhDs), policy advisors, and third-sector stakeholders to work towards collective goals. The daily meetings and informal chats were a stark contrast to my usual PhD days where weeks can pass without speaking to anyone about my work. The break in my studies gave me time to reflect on what I want to do post-PhD, or indeed post-PhD funding, as these certainly do not align. I left the internship energised and inspired to pursue social research in this sector and I would encourage any PhD researchers to seek opportunities to exercise their research skills on external, collaborative projects. I am ever thankful to the people I met during the experience who nurtured my research abilities within the government environment and have since encouraged me to pursue this path. 

The Male Pill: For the Betterment of Womankind?

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

I am a 21-year-old, cisgender, heterosexual woman and was given a combined contraceptive pill when I was 14 years old; I am still on that pill today. Being on the pill for so long, I have a myriad of feelings towards this reproductive technology. I feel grateful I have control over my fertility and that I have few struggles obtaining the pill because prescriptions are free in Scotland. However, I suffer tremendously from anxiety induced from the hormones pumped into my body from the pill. For a few days a month I cannot cope with everyday activities because I become too overwhelmed with the world around me. Others suffer from depression, PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), severe cramping, excessive bleeding on their periods, the list goes on. 

Moreover, being on the pill has made me all too aware of problems women face in medicine every day. Our concerns are blind-sided: we are assumed to be overreacting; we can handle pain; that the side-effects of the pill “aren’t that bad” (a direct quote from my GP when I expressed concern over the levels of anxiety I was facing around my period). It seemed unfair, but I did not question these social arrangements; if I did not want to fall pregnant, I had to take these pills.

When I saw the documentary series, ‘Sex Explained’ on Netflix (2020), the episode on birth control, I realised how indoctrinated I was to this system where I, and others with female reproductive systems, often believe we must hold primary control over fertility, despite two parties being required to reproduce. It was here that I began my research, interest, and personal investment into the creation of a male pill. 

I read ‘The Male Pill: A Biography of a Technology in the Making’ by Nelly Oudshoorn (2003) and learned about the history of the male pill and why a male pill had yet to be created: worries over masculinity, questions of whether women would ever trust men, and others. Despite these barriers, people have begged for a male pill, saying current contraceptives arrangements are problematic, “[sending] the message that women should be content and grateful for the current situation… as a matter of social justice, we should move toward shared contraception responsibility.” (Campo-Engelstein, 2012). I too agree that having a male pill could ease burden of responsibility, encouraging men to take accountability over their status as reproductive beings, and allow women to not suffer side-effects, and discriminatory healthcare, alone.

And yet, what really caught my attention was the question raised by some feminist authors and academics; would a male contraceptive really be better for women? An article written by Angela Phillips (2006) summaries the main worry some have of the male pill, “we are in danger of losing track of the bigger issue: control of conception. The pill gives women control of the fertility tap. She decides when to turn it off but just as important she decides (after discussion we hope) when to turn it back on.” Women have fought, and continue to fight, for control over their bodies, especially regarding reproduction, with the pill often cited as a champion for this autonomy.

One only needs to turn to abortion for proof, a right women across the world struggle to gain and hold onto, often facing off against men trying to regulate their role as reproductive beings. Would giving men an ‘in’ into reproductive control, a domain some men arguably attempt to force themselves into already, really be beneficial? Sure, it would be nice to not have the sole burden of unsavoury side-effects, but I can trust the partner I am with to have discussions with me and not abuse its power should a male pill ever exist. Unfortunately, some women do not have this luxury, and may be in abusive or unhealthy relationships where men can exert even greater hold over them and their bodies with a male pill. Therefore, before we rejoice at the next article that claims the male pill is 5 years away from development, we need to consider whether this technology really would be for the betterment of women, or would it cause more problems than it claims will be solved.

Catriona Reid is a Masters student at the University of Strathclyde studying Applied Gender Studies (Research Methods). She has a BSc (Hons) in Psychology. Her current research is examining British newspapers to understand whether a male contraceptive pill could be considered and understood as a feminist technology. She currently volunteers at the Rape Crisis Scotland helpline.

Campo-Engelstein, L., 2012. Contraceptive justice: why we need a male pill. AMA Journal of Ethics14(2), pp.146-151.

Oudshoorn, N., 2003. The male pill: A biography of a technology in the making. Duke University Press.

Phillips, A. (2006). ‘Is the male pill good for women?’. The Guardian. 28 April. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/apr/28/malepillwomensloss, [Access date: 11/5/2021].

Sex Explained, Episode 3, Birth Control. 2020. Netflix. 2 January, 00:00.

Teaching Moments

CW: Discussions of sexual violence

Scrolling through Instagram this week, I was pleased to see a friend had shared a meme from an account named @savedbythebellhooks, which read: ‘Whether we’re talking about race or gender or class, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is.’ Writing about images of sexual violence in literature and film can often draw up confusing feelings – I recognise the urgency of research in this area, but find myself worrying that my particular focus on textual representations is a less pressing, or more flippant matter. I’m sometimes left wondering whether I should have chosen to work in the realm of the ‘real world’, producing research with real life effects like that of my colleagues in the discipline.

The hooks quote, in all its meme silliness, brought me the comfort and validation that I so often look for as a first-year PhD (and perhaps it’s undignified to admit that I search for this at all, but I do!) Consuming culture is a pedagogical practice – the acts of reading and watching encourage us to become involved in making moral judgements, understanding complex characters and their motivations, as well as mediating with identities that differ from our own. At the risk of sounding trite, books and films (and, of course, TV – but this is beyond the scope of my research) teach us about lives and experiences that are not our own. This opens us up to empathetic potentials and, I think critically, the ‘apprehension’ of other lives that Judith Butler sees as so key in our recognition of others’ humanity.

Without delving into the messiness of defining ‘popular culture’, I’m appropriating it here to describe some of the examples of literature and film I look at in my thesis. All of the texts I focus on deal with sexual violence in some way, whether this is a key feature of the narrative events or a smaller plot point; considering works in English and French means that I’m frequently met with a variety of linguistic, as well as cultural, differences in the representations of all aspects of sexual violence – victimhood, perpetuation, survival. I proceed with caution when asserting that fiction is anything other than an exercise in storytelling, but fundamentally believe that the little truths within have plenty to say about our real lives and experiences. In considering representations of sexual violence specifically, I agree with Tanya Horeck that ‘[s]tories of rape are essential to the way in which the body politic is imagined, serving as a site for cultural conflict and the embodiment of public concerns’ (2004, p. vii). 

All of the texts in my thesis have been released in the period from 2014 to the present; a period in which we’ve seen seismic shifts in public conversations about abuse, sexual violence and accountability. What, then, do my texts have to say about this? Do we see, for example, echoes of what has frequently been viewed as a schism between French and Anglo-American notions of consent and seduction? Are there implicit or explicit reflections on #MeToo (and adjacent digital movements like #BalanceTonPorc in France)? Novels like This Is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill or films such as Promising Young Woman seem to obviously deal with the concerns of our current discursive moment – how is punishment doled out or evaded for perpetuators of abuse, what is to be said about male complicity? – while rape-revenges like Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge or Édouard Louis’ autofictional History of Violence mediate with notions of race, class and believability quite differently. 

My research examines representations, but it is impossible to separate these representational features from the sociocultural realities that imbue them with meaning. I want to know how concepts like Sharon Marcus’s rape script come across in surreal novellas like Peach by Emma Glass, or how Judith Butler’s ideas on grievability and precarious lives apply to our victim-avengers in rape-revenge movies. Importantly, as when considering all instances of speaking out about sexual violence, we must consider whose stories are told and prioritised, and whose are hidden? Reading and thinking about this stuff can be, objectively, grim but I think it’s ultimately valuable work. I’ll continue, hopefully with the support of Instagram meme accounts, to take (popular) culture seriously, to take it as a lens through which we might begin to make sense of not only sexual violence but of class, gender and race in today’s world, and encourage you to join me!

  1. I use apprehension here in the sense that it is defined by Butler in Frames of War. Apprehension ‘can imply marking, registering, acknowledging without full cognition. (…) What we are able to apprehend is surely facilitated by norms of recognition, but it would be a mistake to say that we are utterly limited by existing norms of recognition when we apprehend a life’ (p.64)
  2.  In referencing MeToo, I am here referring primarily to the hashtag movement with the acknowledgment that this stemmed from Tarana Burke’s ongoing work and activism.

Works Cited

Butler, J. (2009: 2016) Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? New York: Verso.

Butler, J. (2004: 2020) Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso.

Horeck, T. (2004) PUBLIC RAPE: Representing violation in fiction and film. New York: Routledge.
Marcus, S. (1992) ‘Fighting bodies, fighting words: a theory and politics of rape prevention’’. In: Butler, J. (ed.) Feminists Theorize the Political. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 385-403.

Emma Flynn is a PhD researcher in Gender Studies at the University of Strathclyde. She has an MLitt in Comparative Literature. Her current research focuses on representations of sexual violence in contemporary English and French literature and film. She runs a feminist/gender theory reading group called FEARY with Glasgow Zine Library.

You can find Emma on Twitter – @emmaafln