Black Bandit, White Wife

Bethan Johnson

‘A life lived at the messy intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, criminality and motherhood.’ This was the perfect description of the narrative told to workshop attendees by Meg Foster, a PhD student from the University of New South Wales and a visiting student at Cambridge, of her research into the life of Ethel Page, wife of convicted murderer Jimmy Governor. One element of a broader thesis analysing non-traditional Australian bushrangers (generally speaking, outlaws who committed crimes, often robberies, in the Australian wilderness), Foster’s presentation focused on how Ethel’s relationship with her husband, as well as his crimes and short-lived life on the run, transfixed 19th century Australian society. Instead of focusing on Jimmy, as many true crime accounts of this case have done, Foster allowed Ethel to take the central role in this story, thereby allowing her to tease out broader themes regarding gender, race, and journalism.

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Scandal and segregation in the early years of women’s higher education

Helen Sunderland

Last week, Georgia Oman, a PhD student at Newnham College, Cambridge, kicked off this term’s programme with a fantastic paper on the gendering of space at the University of Wales, Bangor. It was a story of suspicion and scandal. Georgia used a notorious incident of a female student’s alleged inappropriate conduct and the libel case against the university’s Lady Principal which followed, to uncover deeply entrenched anxieties about interactions between men and women in co-educational institutions.

The attempt in 1892 to stop mature student Violet Osborn from befriending (and potentially corrupting) an ‘impressionable’ younger undergraduate drew on prejudices about class, nationality and age that were played out spatially. Because Violet rented private rooms in town – a cheaper option than university accommodation – she sat awkwardly in between the town/gown divide. The difference between students living in closely-supervised halls and lodging out was a moral as well as a geographical one.

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Gender and Sexuality History Workshop

Teresa Bernardi

I am a Ph.D student from Italy in my final year. I spent one term in Cambridge as a visiting student at the History faculty. Before arriving, I knew about the Gender and Sexuality History Workshop on the advice of an Italian researcher. To be honest, I had never attended a graduate workshop before. Let’s say that in my country these initiatives are generally quite rare. However, it was clear to me right away how useful this kind of experience could be.

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Reinventing the Archive – a postcolonial analysis of feminist activism in India and Ireland

Helen Sunderland

Last Tuesday, the Gender and Sexuality History workshop heard from Dyuti Chakravarty, a PhD student in Sociology at University College Dublin. Her research compares two contemporary feminist movements for ‘bodily autonomy’: ‘Pinjra Tod’ (Break the Cage), a campaign against gender-discriminatory policies in Delhi universities and student accommodation, and the campaign to Repeal the Eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, which secured two-thirds of votes in the referendum in May.

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Physical Culture, an intellectual and practical exploration!

George Severs

Last week, Conor Heffernan from University College, Dublin, put the ‘work’ into workshop. His paper on ‘The Irish Sandow School: Physical Culture in Fin de Siècle Ireland’ investigated the various cultures and networks of masculinity which emerged from ‘physical culture’. And it began by involving attendees of the workshop in some gentle exercises!

Physical culture, Heffernan told us, could be seen as the emerging trends of body building, muscle measurement and generally public forms of exercise. Journals quickly emerged to meet the needs of the (mostly) men who became fixated with tracing their physical progress, and who developed a desire to share the measurements of their ever-increasing muscles with the journals’ growing readership. Read widely across Ireland at the fin de siècle, these journals are a fascinating echo of the modern-day trend of body builders and those who ‘go gym’ to record their corporeally expanding exertions and to share them on social media.

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Family Planning, Men and Masculinity

Holly Ashford

I had been very much looking forward to hearing Katie Jones from the University of Birmingham give her paper on men’s attitudes to contraception in 1970s and 80s Britain. I was not disappointed. Katie’s paper touched on some important themes, asked pertinent questions and prompted lively discussion. The history of family planning in Britain goes back to the 1920s, when Marie Stopes opened the first birth control clinic in London. The term ‘family planning’ illuminates the framework in which contraception was understood for decades – as something used in the context of nuclear, family life. Indeed, we should keep in mind that family planning isn’t just about limiting births but also deals with issues of infertility and childlessness.

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Gendering of Migration

Helen Sunderland

In recent years, migration has never been far from the headlines. The European migrant crisis – the worst since the Second World War – saw several million people endure exhausting and dangerous journeys to the continent. Refugees fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, and many other countries, as well as those escaping extreme poverty, risked their lives trying to reach Europe by land and sea. Thousands died trying to do so. As the EU struggled to reach a consensus about how to resolve the crisis, migration became increasingly politically charged. Fears over immigration were a factor in the Brexit vote and have fuelled the resurgence of the far-right across Europe.

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Gender, Sex and Shopping

George Severs

To many, shopping is part of the everyday makeup of life which slips beneath the radar. Quotidian and ubiquitous, we may have assumed that shopping and the stores which facilitate such transactions, have a history which fits firmly into the canons of economic history. Whilst there is still doubtless an interesting economic story to be told, last week the Workshop learned more about the fascinating gender and sexuality history of shopping in department stores.

Public interest in the history of department stores is growing. The popular ITV period drama Mr. Selfridge, which detailed the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge and the emergence of Selfridge’s department store on London’s Oxford Street, was well received and brought the twentieth century history of the department store into living rooms across Britain on Sunday evenings.

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The Regulation of Prostitution: an ongoing question

Holly Ashford

In 2018, debates on how sex work should be regulated continue to cause friction. Is prostitution the ‘oldest profession’ or the ‘oldest oppression’? Perhaps both. Different states have taken different approaches to the regulation of prostitution. In some places, the practice of prostitution is illegal – in 2010, Iceland even made lap dance clubs illegal. Other states such as the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, have all legalised prostitution. Alternatively, the “Nordic model” penalises those who buy sex, but not those who sell it.

Amnesty International is a world advocate in legalised prostitution. They argue that the abuse and discrimination that this marginalised group of – mainly – women, faces, is more adequately combatted when the practice is not illegal. This makes sense, after all, if prostitutes are hidden from the state, the state cannot ensure their wellbeing. On the other hand, in places where prostitution has been decriminalised, trafficking of women into brothels, and illegal brothels continue to facilitate abuses. The fact that it is mainly women selling sex to men arguably means that the practice perpetuates gendered ideas of sexuality in which women are passive, providers of sex, and men full of sexual desire that must be fulfilled.

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