Tuesday, 24 November 2009


As part of 16 Days of Action for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Tomorrow Night is RECLAIM THE NIGHT GLASGOW 2009.

This year the route for the Reclaim the Night march in Glasgow will be from Botanic Gardens at 6.30 pm, down Byres Road - University Avenue - Gibson Street - Eldon Street and will end with a rally in the STUC, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow G3. As always, it will be led off by SheBoom and there will be hot drinks, food, stalls and music at the end of the march. If you need more information you can contact the Rape Crisis Centre at

This years theme for 16 Days of Action for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25th November to 10th December) is ‘Commit – Act – Demand: we CAN end violence against women’. So it is perhaps both saddening and timely that the Daily Record reported that reported domestic violence rose by 8% this year to 53,861 incidents (in a country with a population of 5 million!) If you want to see what's happening internationally to combat violence against women over the next 16 days, please click here.

Now, I have to go finish writing the last chapter in my book, which just happens to be about domestic violence.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

A Life of the Over-Worked

Since the 12th October, I have spent one week in large English city (where my university is at) for work, 1 week in major European city for work, 2 days in medium sized European city for 'team meeting', 2 days in large English city for work, and 3 days in Northern English city for getaway weekend with one's spouse. I have also written 3 funding applications for a conference I am organising, one funding application for a post-doc for me, applied for 3 jobs, done all the other admin and research parts on my job and desperately tried to get my book finished. Tomorrow, I go back to major European city for a week of research, but by the end of the month I must also finish my book (yeah!), and one article which I promised would be done (and have been promising for some time), write a book review for a book that I read about two months ago, complete another job application, and ideally find the time to spend several hours on a database that my university is trialling to get the sources I need before it expires on the 30th. By Christmas, I need to put together another post-doc funding application (on a different topic from the 1st), apply for 2 other jobs, and write a half-hour workshop paper (for just after Xmas but who wants to work at Christmas right?). I also have three other books to read and review in the next couple of months, plus turning my workshop paper into a high-quality article and writing a third article which is due for a journal special edition in May. I am also organising a conference in May (which if I get funding will also have a spin-off publication- a book which I will be editor for), and am part of an organising team for a second conference in September, for which I need to write three funding applications all due in Feb/Mar.

The tension with all this being, that I am only employed to do research, so that has to happen every week regardless of whether I have funding/writing/job deadlines. On the otherhand, if I only do research, I will not get a job when this contract expires, because it's all that other crap that gets you jobs. Rather depressingly, since the job market opened at the start of September, there have been in total 6 jobs advertised for which I could apply- and this is really because there is NO jobs, and many of the post-doc people have cut their requirements so you have to be 1 year past PhD, rather than 6!!! Which is fine, if we imagine there is lots of nice jobs waiting for people who have PhD and (by next year) 3 years employed post-doc experience (I know I've been lucky) but there just isn't. It might pick up after Christmas. Here's hoping.

And to top it all off, it's raining and it hasn't stopped for days. And, I have major flooding all around me, which, as I live on a mountain, I am relatively safe from, but when you drive down the mountain to the rest of humanity, you find all the roads cut off. It's actually one of the most visually amazing sights I've seen, but also devastating. On Friday, heading for the train, I was driving along parallel with the river and became conscious that the fields next to the river were entirely flooded and as the road turned to where I would eventually cross the river, in front of me was no road, no sign of a bridge, but a broad river running, very quickly across the countryside over what used to be fields and the road. This river is usually so low down in the bank that you can't see it from the road, unless you stopped and looked over the bridge, and suddenly it's as wide as two football fields and fast-moving. It was quite breath-taking (and I didn't have my camera). But, also stopped me getting my train. And for the villagers in that village two of the main roads into town were blocked by that flood, and you could enter and exit from the other side, but that involved a thirty mile detour. I then headed to an alternative train station, where I got a rail replacement bus, and got treated to similar sights across the countryside. Every river we drove past had burst its banks. The water was literally at the top of bridges, with no space between. It was quite awesome (in its biblical sense), but I think it means I have to start building an ark and I am not sure whether I'll fit it in before Christmas.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Because I am too tired to write.

(Physcially tired, too many deadlines, too much work...) You can appreciate one of my holiday photos and imagine yourself in a feminist paradise.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Charivari, Halloween and the Slutty Witch/Nurse/Bee/...

Festivals and dressing-up of various sorts have a long history in Western Europe. Not just Halloween, but Saints Days (of which there were many before the Reformation), local holidays, and regional traditions offered communities the opportunity to get together, dress up, feast and drink, enjoy each other’s company and air grievances against others in the community. The spirit of costume and the festival could also be recreated in the moment when a social injustice needed recognised or community discipline needed dishing out. So, every now and again, when a wife was being unfaithful, the community dressed up (disguised themselves), and in the UK beat pots and pans or drums, went to the house of the husband, placed horns on his head (a symbol of his humiliation) and rode him backwards on a donkey through the town- a message to the man to get his house in order and a warning to others. A woman who had breached community discipline might be taken by the crowd in a similar manner and ducked in a pond or river to remind her to behave. This style of community discipline is now known by historians as the ‘charivari’, its Italian name. In Northern Ireland, a favourite form of charivari was for the disguised crowd to go to the house of the wrong-doer (from the community’s perspective) and to make a bonfire, dancing round, singing and hitting pots and pans (or whatever else was handy).

The opportunity to think and protest about power structures within the community was often a central part of festivals. Children, the most powerless in the community, dressed up as kings and queens, the most powerful people in the land (still seen in local gala days in the UK); men dressed up as women and women as men, reflecting a questioning of the ‘natural’ order. Festivals were an opportunity to question the status quo in an environment where it would hopefully go unpunished (there were boundaries!), and costume allowed individuals to make political points ‘in disguise’ (although this often was in part an unspoken agreement to not recognise individuals). A central concept within festival tradition was ‘the world turned upside down’, the opportunity for people to become what they were not in everyday life- to don costumes and become for a night what they could only imagine the rest of the year.

In contemporary society, Halloween is one of the only opportunities people have left to engage in this tradition. So, what do their costumes tell us about our society? Some of this is obvious- people dressed up as superheroes are always popular, reflecting a desire to be larger than life, to matter and make a difference, in a world where the individual is seen to be more important than the community and working together. The superhero is the realisation of the individual at its best. Doctors, nurses and surgeons covered in blood is a rather obvious comment on the medical world as people who save lives and yet are never far from death. Like witches or zombies in the past, they increasingly represent the boundary between life and death, the real world and the supernatural. This year we also saw the wider cultural obsession with vampires in numerous costumes on this topic, highlighting our interest in immortality in a world where death seems increasingly distant and scary due to decreased mortality for the young- and living forever seems increasingly realistic.

And finally, we have the ‘slutty witch/nurse/bee’ (seriously, I saw four slutty bees this Halloween) or whatever costume you like but with a lot of body parts showing. If the theory of festival and charivari holds true, women dress as ‘slutty X’ as it is both conventional and denied to them. That is, disguise should be understood by its audience and should be commenting on current social expectations- no thinking outside the box or you become culturally irrelevant (as every historian who chooses to dress as an obscure historical figure to a party amongst non-historians knows)-so it is conventional. It should also be something that cannot be worn everyday- you must become more than yourself, but not so out there that you become meaningless.

So what does the ‘slutty X’ costume tell us about our society? It suggests that the ideal of women as sexual objects is held out to women as an ideal form of femininity, but also one that is unachievable in the everyday, and perhaps even inappropriate (like the child as Queen). Its ubiquity also suggests that it is the central cultural norm that women have to use as a standard for their behaviour. It is notable how few women today now dress up as men for Halloween-a phenomenon that was extremely popular in past generations. Women today no longer see men or manliness as something to be achieved or as shaping the female self- perhaps unlike men’s position towards women (you still get men cross-dressing at Halloween, although again this is becoming rare in the straight community). Instead, the all pervasive sexy, slutty woman becomes the central standard that women are expected to strive for or idolise, when thinking about self. The princess in all of us, that women in the past were thought to desire to be treated as, is gone. Instead, being sexy or ‘slutty’ is the new model for femininity. It may be unachievable, but it is always there, shaping hopes and desires and sense of self. It is also worth noting, like in so many other spheres of life, that men have considerably more options at Halloween than women, who are increasingly homogenised.

Perhaps next year (and look I am giving you ages to think about this), we need to think about costumes that both challenge the status quo and are unconventional; costumes that challenge expectations of femininity and provide an alternative commentary on what it means to be female.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Can't have it both ways.

A politics meets academia post. The Chief Advisor on drugs policy - a scientist Prof. Nutt- has been sacked after he openly spoke out about his opinion on drug classification- a statement that contradicted the government's official policy. Alan Johnson, the MP who sacked him said, 'What you cannot have is a chief adviser at the same time stepping into the political field and campaigning against government decisions. You can do one or the other. You can't do both.' And that all sounds fair, doesn't it? The people who work for the government should agree with the government.

Except that the problem is that this means the government can consult you as a scientist, completely ignore your advice, and still put your name as backing to their political policies. And, how do you think that makes you as a scientist look to other scientists? What scientist wants to be associated with whackadoo, ill-informed government policy? What scientist wants his authority as a scientist used to promote something that is unscientific?

I know the acceptable stance in this case, is to have the government consult you, ignore you and then resign in a big huffy fit, but the problem is that most scientists want government policy to be well-informed; they want the work they do to matter and actually help people, and when your resign you lose that opportunity.

The government can't have it both ways. You can use independent, scientific advice that is well-informed to support your policy or your don't, but you can't make a big show of having a chief advisor who is a scientist to give your policy authority, and then ignore him, and expect him to keep his mouth shut.