‘Hidden Voices: Enslaved Women in the Lowcountry and U.S. South’: Emily West in Conversation with Beth Rebisz for Women’s History Month

Launching Women’s History Month for the Gender Research Cluster is Professor Emily West, here in conversation with Beth Rebisz about her exhibition Hidden Voices: Enslaved Women in the Lowcountry and U.S. South. Developed in collaboration with the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative at the college of Charleston, this amazing exhibition explores the history of Black women in the American South from the Antebellum era to the Reconstruction era. Focusing on the experiences of enslaved women in the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry in both rural and urban contexts, the exhibit examines African American women’s labour, interconnected relationships, and cultural practices. It reveals the types of violence they were subjected to as well as the joys and triumphs they created for themselves. By exploring the history of slavery through the lens of gender, Hidden Voices illuminates African American women’s specific experiences and contributions.

Emily provides an invaluable insight into the design of this exhibition, from the choices raised by including problematic sources, to ensuring audience members are free to interpret the material in their own ways. She emphasises the obligation of historians to share their research outside of academia, particularly to include a better integration of women’s history in accessible mediums.

We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to speak with Emily for Women’s History Month, and to spotlight this incredible exhibition as an important window into enslaved women’s hidden histories. Thank you, Emily!

Click the image below to watch the full video.

Don’t forget to access the exhibition here.

 

 

‘Stool’ Crazy After All These Years – Amie Bolissian asks why older women diary-writers in early modern England were more likely to mention their bowel movements than younger women

Science Museum Group. Chamber pot, Netherlands, 1651-1780. A1189Science Museum Group Collection Online. Accessed 9 November 2020. https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co146585/chamber-pot-netherlands-1651-1780-chamber-pot.
Portrait of Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset and later Countess of Pembroke (1590 – 1676), Wikimedia Commons

In the journal sections of the indefatigable Cumbrian noblewoman Lady Anne Clifford’s (1590 – 1676) manuscript diaries, she wrote of her occasional distempers, swooning fits, and medical treatment. It was not until her final diary entries in the last months of her life at the impressive age of 85, however, that she shared details of her bowel movements. Never would I have imagined, that this small finding would promote a whole blog-post.

When I set out to research the experiences of ageing patients in Tudor and Stuart England, I did not anticipate that pooing might be a gendered topic. Studying medicine in this period means that the evacuation of faeces, or ‘stools’, is difficult to avoid. The flux and flow of fluids and substances around and out of the body was considered essential for health, and promoting them the primary treatment for most diseases. Medical writings were particularly keen on bloodletting, and the use of plant-based or chemical laxatives (referred to as purging or ‘physic’). As Suffolk preacher and medical practitioner Simon Harward explained with undisguised enthusiasm, ‘purging, and letting of bloud’ were the two ‘great helps’, not just ‘because they are applyed unto great diseases’, but because

‘they do bring the greatest and most present eases and remedyes, that ever either inwardlie or outwardlie were devised for mans health’.[1]

Lay healers (mostly women), who provided the majority of medical care, also purged the body therapeutically, as shown by the number of loosening remedies in manuscript recipe books. The phrase ‘better out than in’ neatly sums up Humouralist medical attitudes to any matter they felt was obstructing or corrupting the body. Purging was also supposed to be strong-acting. Shakespeare’s son-in-law, the physician John Hall treated the poet Michael Drayton with syrup of violets for a fever and wrote that it ‘wrought very well both upwards and downwards’. The definition of ‘very well’ can be put into context when considering that Hall regularly administered preparatory purging concoctions which ‘gave five or six stools a day without griping’, ‘five or six stools without pain the following days’, or ‘seven vomits…[then] eight stools for four mornings’.[2]

The ‘Aged’ patients that I study were thought to suffer from both diarrhoea and constipation as they aged, so I did expect this subject to be important in my research. But why would poo be gendered?

The main reason stems from scholarship that has highlighted how rarely early modern women’s writings mention bowel movements, in comparison to men. My research into ageing patients has found that this gender disparity then decreases with age. Why would this be? It seems that older women tended to refer to purges and stools a little more as they aged, while the proportion of men stayed the same. But what caused the initial gender difference and why did this change in old age?

Lady Anne Halkett figure at the Abbot House, Dunfermline Fife, Wikimedia commons

From costume dramas of courtiers in floor-length gowns and puritan women in austere body-concealing garments, we might assume that elite women diary-writers may have been deterred from sharing their bowel movements due to delicacy or demureness. It is possible that cultural feminine norms at this time precluded discussion in writing or in person about bodily evacuations, especially in gentrified circles, but this notion is somewhat challenged by details of other bodily excretions in diaries and letters. Women mentioned bloodletting, urine, phlegm, and kidney stones but rarely ‘stools’ or purges. The author and medical practitioner Lady Anne Halkett, for example, vividly described how she passed a bladder or kidney stone that ‘came away Longer than a Date Stone & very neere as big’.[3]

One explanation highlighted by historian Olivia Weisser in her ground-breaking 2015 book on illness and gender, stems directly from the production and preservation of the sources themselves.[4] Women’s diaries that have survived from this time were overwhelmingly written by intensely devout noblewomen or wealthy elite. They generally follow the literary tradition of the spiritual diary. The largely Protestant trend for self-examination and spiritual practice through diary-keeping became increasingly popular into the latter half of the seventeenth century for both genders. Published manuals such as John Beadle’s 1656 The Journal or Diary of a Thankful Christian instructed the devout in how and why they should keep a journal. The practice was encouraged to prevent believers from the ‘root-sin’ of forgetting God’s power and benevolence and had step-by-step guidance on what to write.[5] They cited the advantages of meticulous ships’ diaries to successful journeys, and suggested the journals might be left to future generations as examplars of a pious life. Women wrote often of their health and illnesses in these diaries, but usually within a larger framework of the health of their faith and soul. Any meticulous record-keeping of the form and frequency of their faeces does not seem to have made the cut.

The journals of men, on the other hand, while also following the spiritual diary tradition in many instances, also tended to demonstrate other textual influences. Diarists such as Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn, and Elias Ashmole (who all mentioned purging) were exposed to a classical University education, scholarly and business record-keeping, and intellectual circles promoting empirical investigation – or scientific exploration as it would come to be known. They attended lectures and meetings at the newly-formed Royal Society ‘for Improving Natural Knowledge’ on the new mechanics of the body, and had physician friends who promoted detailed observations of patients’ symptoms. Making careful notes and ‘readings’ of their body’s workings would not have seemed out of place in this intellectual context. The antiquarian Elias Ashmole’s diary of 1683 contained daily entries of:

‘-I took purging Pills, which wrought very well.

-I took my Pills, and purged very well.

-I took Pills’[6]

Elias Ashmole by an unknown artist (detail), c. 1688, after the portrait by John Riley, Wikimedia commons

Women, meanwhile, were excluded from University educations, the Royal Society, Royal College of Physicians, and the Guilds of Surgeons and Apothecaries. Some women fought against these restrictions and became medical practitioners and/or intellectuals via various oblique routes – such as Lady Ranelagh, Robert Boyle’s sister – but this does not seem to have resulted in a greater tendency to track the quantity and quality of their stools in their diaries in the way that men did.

Another possible contributing factor to the gender differentiation may stem from traditions of oral transmission and memory. There are very few explicit references to women’s periods (‘flowers’, ‘courses’ or ‘termes’) in their diaries either. Yet, from the few mentions available, and evidence from doctors’ case histories, it is likely many kept track of them. Perhaps, in an environment where women used repetition and memory to practice and pass on much of their skill and knowledge, they had methods other than the written word for remembering and recording when they had menstruated, as well as any pertinent defecatory details. There is also the possibility that they did record them in a material way, but these systems have not survived for various reasons. Women might not have thought them valuable enough to keep, or they may have been inscribed on perishable materials.

In which case, why did a greater proportion of older women record their purges and stools in their diaries? Back to the force of nature that was Lady Anne Clifford in her eighties. She described both the quality and number of her stools in the last few months of her diary. An entry for 6th January 1676, penned by one of her scribes, reads:

‘this morning after I was out of my bed I had 7 or 8 great loose stooles downards, which I thought did me much good, but withall weakened my Body so much that it cast me into a Swoning fitt. But God be praised I recovered soon after’[7]

Lady Clifford is not the only older women to mention the state of her bowels or purging, either. Why were older women writers more likely to be open about this subject?

Old woman, After Rembrandt, Wellcome images

An obvious explanation may simply be that almost all diarists tended to focus more on health and bodily matters as they aged. Perhaps, with the accumulation of what they frequently called ‘the infirmities of old age’, women’s bowel movements seemed even more significant to their health. Moreover, with the passage of time, women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties may have been less confident of the powers of their memories to recall their evacuations. Women past childbearing and/or child-rearing age, especially gentlewomen, may also have had fewer demands on their time, to allow them to go into greater detail about their evacuations and medical treatments, as well as fulfilling their spiritual duties in writing. When suffering from chronic diseases and ageing infirmities, older women sometimes found themselves bed-bound or confined to their chambers for months on end.

On top of this, older bodies were believed by doctors and ordinary people to be weaker and less able to withstand strong purges. We find ‘gentle’ purges recommended to both children and the elderly in remedy books. My research has shown that those accustomed to purging as a remedy in their youth defied doctors’ warnings, and usually continued into old age, but with some concern over the effects on their vulnerable health state. Although older patients may have wanted to feel as if their purge had ‘wrought well’ and done them ‘much good’ they might also have felt the need to monitor the outcomes in order to judge the strength and resilience of their physical health – just as Lady Clifford did above.

It is impossible to know for sure if younger women were too busy or too constrained by writing conventions to record their bowel movements, or even if they had other methods of monitoring them which are lost to us. But these bodily evacuations were perceived as crucial to health by both genders, and the fact that older women did refer to them in their writings does tend to suggest the roots of the gender disparities in younger diarists stems from gendered cultural differences in writing and recording practices. A few weeks after Lady Clifford’s entries about her stools, she began to regularly note in her diaries about her ‘ill fits of the wind’, but farts are a whole other blogpost.[8]

Amie Bolissian is a Wellcome-funded PhD Candidate researching ageing patients in early modern England, examining medical understandings of old age and the experiences of sick older people from c.1570-1730.

  • Recommended reading: Weisser, Olivia, Ill Composed: Sickness, Gender, and Belief in Early Modern England (New Haven & London, 2015); Churchill, Wendy D., Female Patients in Early Modern Britain: Gender, Diagnosis, and Treatment (Fredericton, Canada, 2016); Read, Sara, Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England (Basingtoke and N.Y., 2013); Smith, Lisa Wynne, ‘The Body Embarrassed? Rethinking the Leaky Male Body in Eighteenth‐Century England and France’, Gender & History, 23/1 (2011), 26-46.
  1. Harward, Simon, Harvvards Phlebotemy, (London: 1601), unpaginated.
  2. Hall, John and Cook, James, Select observations on English bodies of eminent persons in desperate diseases first written in Latin by Mr. John Hall (London, 1679), 18.
  3. National Library of Scotland National Library of Scotland, ‘Meditations’ by Anne Lady Halkett, Mid seventeenth century, MS 6501, f.350/348.
  4. Weisser, Olivia, Ill Composed: Sickness, Gender, and Belief in Early Modern England (New Haven & London, 2015).
  5. Beadle, John, The Journal or Diary of a Thankful Christian (London, 1656), 171.
  6. Ashmole, Elias, Memoirs of the life of that learned antiquary, Elias Ashmole, Esq; drawn up by himself by way of diary. With an appendix of original letters. (London, 1717), 69-70.
  7. Clifford, D. J. H. (ed.), The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 2003), 233.
  8. Ibid, 243.

‘Belonging’ – Shepherd Mutswiri in conversation with Beth Rebisz

Next in our series on ‘Belonging’, we hear from Shepherd Mutswiri, a PGR student in our network. Shepherd joined the University of Reading’s history department in January 2020, having completed an MSc in International Development and Development Economics at SOAS, London. His PhD research focuses on Zimbabwe’s decolonisation in which he challenges the master narrative. While Zimbabwean public discourse, as well as much of the scholarly debate, has been to celebrate the liberation war, Shepherd intends to complicate this understanding. Shepherd is exploring the relationship between nationalism and religion in the decolonisation process, and the important role women played in the years leading up to independence in 1980.

‘People don’t want to be tolerated, they want to be accepted’.

Shepherd was generous enough to spend time talking to Beth Rebisz on the theme of ‘Belonging’. In his research on the decolonisation process in Zimbabwe, belonging plays an important role in relation to nationalism. How do you bring people from different backgrounds together to form a nation? Shepherd also spoke of his own experience navigating UK academia, emphasising the impact citizenship can have on a sense of belonging. Where is home for a transient researcher?

Click on the picture below to view the full video

Shepherd Mutswiri in conversation with Beth Rebisz

 

Black History Month Events 2020

DATE TIME EVENT
Monday 12 October 12.00-13.00 BAME Students in English Literature: A Network

Dr Nicola Abram, Department of English Literature

Yinka Olaniyan, UoR 2020 Graduate

Wednesday 14 October 12:00 – 13:00 Decolonising the Curriculum

Dr Sarah Cardey, International Development

Dr Matthew Windsor, School of Law

13.00-15.00 Blacklisted? Are Black people excluded from institutions in the UK?

Professor Leslie Thomas QC, Garden Court of Chambers,

Professor Kehinde Andrews, Birmingham City University

Dr Foluke Adebisi, University of Bristol

Use this link to join the event

Friday 16 October 10.00-11.15 Race and trans-Atlantic experiences of the ivory tower-1

Professor Nduka Otiono, Institute of African Studies at Carleton University

Use this link to join the event

Tuesday 20 October 12.00-13.30 Race and trans-Atlantic experiences of the ivory tower-2

Professor Katherine Harloe, University of Reading

Professor Olufunmilayo Arewa, Beasley School of Law, Temple University

Use this link to join the event

16:00 – 17:00

 

RUSU: Black History Month

Rachel Wates, RUSU Diversity Officer 2020/21

Ruth Adeniyi, RUSU BAME Officer 2020/21

Wednesday 21 October 14.00-16.00 Race at the School of Law

Dr Matthew Windsor, Lecturer

Alex Ojo, BAME rep for Law Society

Suralini Fernando, Widening Participation Officer

Dr Ana Cannilla, Lecturer, Chair Student Experience Committee

Use this link to join the event

15:00 – 16:00

 

 

Virtual Roundtable: BAME Students in the UoR History Department

Dr Natalie Thomlinson, Department of History

Students, Department of History

 

Monday 26 October 19:30 – 21:00 Decolonising Gospel Music

Professor Robert Beckford, The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham

University of Reading Chaplaincy’s Café Théologique

 

Facebook Event Link (Zoom Details in the Description Box)

Tuesday 27 October 12.00-13.30 BAME Allies launch and discussion: anti-racism and allyship

 

Dr Natalie Thomlinson, Department of History

Dr Heike Schmidt, Department of History

Use this link to join the event

TBC TBC In conversation with Joanna Abeyie, MBE

 

Wednesday 28 October 14:30 – 16:00 If Not Now, Then When?

Rob Neil OBE

UoR Colleagues representing students, postdoc/early career researchers, academic and professional services staff.

Image-ining Gender: ‘medieval sisters are doin’ it for themselves’ by Charlotte Crouch

(Arch. de la Côte-d’Or, P.S 440)

Opening a box in the archives and seeing a medieval seal like this one can be breathtaking. Finding this 733 year old seal certainly brightened a particularly rainy day in Dijon last year. This seal belonged to Margaret, countess of Tonnerre in Burgundy and for a time, queen of Sicily. Seals were attached to documents to authenticate their contents. This particular seal is still attached to a charter, issued by Margaret in 1287, regulating her portion of her uncle’s inheritance. It signalled the beginning of the end of a decade-long inheritance dispute after the duke of Burgundy’s heir died, leaving behind three daughters, one of whom was Margaret.

Her seal contains many signs of her status; her crown signifies her title of Queen of Sicily before her husband’s death; the heraldic shields either side of Margaret show her familial links to the French crown and the duchy of Burgundy and her titles circling the outside of the oval seal gave her the authority to make the decisions concerning her lands in the charter. Margaret’s seal was designed to identify her individually, but also to represent her status as an aristocratic woman and heiress.

As recently as last year, the editors of a new collection on aristocratic women lamented how little the work on women like Margaret has permeated the discourse concerning the aristocracy.[1] Unlike England at the time, the French aristocracy had far more flexibility and control over their own inheritance, which opened the door for aristocratic women to make politically consequential decisions concerning their own lands. Yet women are still too often seen as exceptional when they occupied positions of authority, and still seen as ‘a cipher’ in relation to their husbands or children.[2] The charter and Margaret’s seal can be used to further show the need to nuance this narrative. The context around this charter and the way Margaret chose to be depicted in her seal reveals the diversity of experience of aristocratic women.

There are many different layers that we must consider when researching medieval women. Hearing women’s voices can be particularly difficult considering that most of the written sources which have survived come to us through the voices of educated church men. Very few chronicles and literary sources can shed light on Margaret’s life, or indeed the lives of most medieval women. Yet when we begin to piece together different types of evidence, such as the many charters Margaret left behind, and her religious and artistic patronage, we can start to build a picture of Margaret’s own experiences.

Studying seals and how they change across women’s life cycles, for example, can be revealing.[3] By comparing Margaret’s two seals from before and after her husband’s death, we can see key differences in how she wished to be portrayed.

 Marguerite’s two seals, before and after her husband’s death[4]

Her seal during her marriage showed her wearing  expensive jewellery and clothing lined with ermine, befitting for the queen of Sicily. In her widowhood, and during her extensive programme of religious patronage, Margaret’s second seal removed such obvious displays of wealth.

                                                                 

The back of Margaret’s second seal, the counter-seal, contained Margaret’s family arms within a daisy; very possibly linking her name in French (Marguerite) to marguerite daisies. Her impressive religious patronage, including the foundation of an important religious hospital in her county of Tonnerre, perhaps continued to show her influence with marguerites dotted all over tiles and stained glass.[5] Some of her surviving charters were also decorated with red marguerites, suggesting that Margaret held an element of control over how she was represented, in both documents and material culture.

After her father’s death, Margaret was drawn into a decade long inheritance dispute with her two sisters, Yolande and Alice, concerning both their maternal and paternal inheritance. Yolande, as the oldest daughter, believed she was entitled to inherit all of her mother’s and father’s lands. Alice, as the youngest, believed that at least the maternal lands should be divided equally between the three sisters. Charters like the one pictured above depict the youngest sister, Alice, nominating representatives to make her case at different aristocratic courts, pleading that her sister Yolande was unfairly withholding lands. Eventually, the case was referred to the king’s court, where it was decided that the daughters would have a county from their maternal lands each, and the rest of the maternal inheritance would be split equally.

It was common for siblings to refer inheritance cases to courts and does not necessarily represent sour relations between the sisters. Their great-grandmother was reprimanded by the pope for engaging in violent action against her half-brother to defend her own inheritance but there is no evidence this sort of thing happened between the three sisters. Whilst Yolande would pursue a court case for her paternal inheritance for ten years, this charter describes Margaret declining her own share of her father’s inheritance and settling it outside of the court case. The charter marks the beginning of the end of the ten year long dispute in which all three sisters made decisions concerning their own inheritance. Yolande and Alice chose to vehemently defend their rights to their own lands, whilst Margaret appears to have taken a back seat in the negotiations; she did not send a representative for the earlier court case and decided to settle her paternal inheritance directly with her half-brother.

Out of the three sisters, Margaret does appear to have had a better relationship with her younger sister, Alice, who visited her whilst Margaret was on crusade with her husband. Indeed, without any heirs, Margaret decided to leave her own county of Tonnerre to Alice’s son.

The change in the way Margaret chose to be depicted in her seal reflects her changing priorities across her lifetime. The charter to which this seal was attached also describes her reaction to the inheritance dispute, which was different to that of her sisters. Whether or not the sisters got the results they had been hoping for, they all acted with different motivations and from different perspectives, a long way from the ‘ciphers’ of men or ‘exceptions’ they might still be labelled as today. Whilst Margaret’s seal is exceptionally beautiful, the charter she issued and the actions of the siblings were expected and completely unexceptional.

Charlotte Crouch recently completed her PhD at the University of Reading. You can find her on Twitter : @CharCrouch

[1] Ed. H. Tanner, Medieval Elite Women and the Exercise of Power, 1100-1400: Moving Beyond the Exceptionalist Debate (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)

[2] Ed. Tanner, Medieval Elite Women, p. 1-2

[3] See, for example, E. Jordan, ‘Swords, Seals and Coins: Female Rulers and Instruments of Authority in Thirteenth-Century Flanders and Hainaut’ in ed. S. Solway, Medieval Coins and Seals: Constructing Identity, Signifying Power (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015) pp. 229- 246

[4]  M. P. Lillich, The Queen of Sicily and Gothic Stained Glass in Mussy and Tonnerre (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1998) p. 33

[5] See Lillich, The Queen of Sicily, esp. p.29-37 and p. 81

 

Problems of Inequality: A Short Reading List

In place of promoting our own research this week, the Gender History Research Cluster is instead sharing links to accessible pieces that explore the current situation in the United States. Also linked are some articles that expose similar issues in the UK, as well as material relating to the still relevant report from the Royal Historical Society about inequality in the British History profession.

 

CONTEXTUALISING THE CURRENT PROTESTS

 

In The Washington Post, Keisha N Plain explores racist violence across US history and police involvement in that violence:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/05/30/violence-minneapolis-is-rooted-history-racist-policing-america/

 

Kali Nicole Gross reflects upon the unique challenges that face black women in the United States, including disproportional experiences of violence at the hands of police:

http://abwh.org/2020/05/31/by-remembering-our-sisters-we-challenge-police-violence-against-black-women-and-legacies-that-eclipse-these-injustices/

 

Ibram X Kendi outlines the ‘American Nightmare,’ detailing how black Americans have been excluded from equality:

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/american-nightmare/612457/

 

PRACTICING ANTI-RACISM

 

In gal-dem, Kemi Alemoru analyses the impact that viewing videos of racist violence can have, and reflects upon how we should share such harmful content:

https://gal-dem.com/bookmark-this-what-should-we-do-with-videos-of-police-brutality/

 

Nesrine Malik urges ‘white allies’ to continue the fight for equality even when large protests are not dominating the news cycle:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/02/white-people-racism-george-floyd?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

RACISM IN THE UK

 

Wail Qasim explores police violence in the UK:

https://novaramedia.com/2020/06/01/the-uk-is-not-innocent-police-brutality-has-a-long-and-violent-history-here/

 

In Elle, Marcia Rigg shares the story of her brother, Sean, who died in police custody in South West London in 2008. Police violence is not just a US problem:

https://www.elle.com/uk/life-and-culture/a32742001/marcia-rigg-anti-racism/

 

George the Poet highlights the links between racism in the US and the UK:

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/george-the-poet-newsnight-emily-maitlis-black-lives-matter-george-floyd-a9544776.html

 

INEQUALITY IN THE PROFESSION

 

History is an overwhelmingly white profession in the UK. See the October 2018 report by the Royal Historical Society:

https://royalhistsoc.org/racereport/

 

Meliesa Ono-George, Historian at the University of Warwick, reflects on broader problems of this stark lack of diversity:

http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/power-in-the-telling/

 

 

Congratulations! Liz Barnes will deliver the Fairbrother Lecture 2018

Our own Liz Barns won the highly competetive selection process and will deliver the Fairbrother Lecture 2018 on her doctoral research on sexual violence, slavery and abolition in the United States. Congratulations!
Liz will deliver the lecture 21 May, further details to be confirmed.
http://www.reading.ac.uk/gs-fairbrotherlecture.aspx

LGBT+History Month

Februrary is LGBT+History Month. The events below are confirmed at this point, but do check for updates and details at our D&I Events page here.

 

Jessica Lynn’s Transgender Journey, Wednesday 6 February, 17:00, Room 108 Henley Business School, Whiteknights Campus

In recent years, Kinsey Institute Global Ambassador, Jessica Lynn, has become well-known for her activism on behalf of the transgender community. Her experience, exuberance, and extraordinary life produce a presentation that has put her on over 700 stages in 22 different countries. After a prejudiced Texas judge stripped her of all parental rights to her youngest son, Ms. Lynn dedicated her life to combating the intolerance and ignorance of the public toward peoples who share her plight. Addressing audiences unabashedly and answering any-and-all questions has earned Ms. Lynn worldwide renown, the prestige of a Stonewall School Role Model, and a position advising the medical community by request of the National Health Service England.

All (staff, students, local community, etc!) welcome. Click here for more details and to book.

 

Offences against the person? Discovering hidden LGB histories in Berkshire court archives, Monday 11 February, 16:30-18:00, Berkshire Record Office, 9 Coley Avenue, Reading RG1 6AF

As part of LGBT History Month, join us to hear University of Reading students Amy Hitchings and George Stokes discuss the findings of their summer 2018 UROP research. Learn about some previously forgotten lives, see some of the documents Victorians and Edwardians used for research and enjoy tea and cake. Exhibition and refreshments from 16:30pm, discussion from 17:00

All (staff, students, local community, etc!) welcome. Admission free, booking via email to mailto:arch@reading.gov.uk

 

Becoming a UoR LGBT+ Ally: Information and Recruitment Session, Wednesday 13 February, 13:00-14:30, G01, Building L22, London Road Campus

This is a recruitment event for our new LGBT+ Allies Programme, hosted by the RUSU Diversity Officer and the Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, and led by LGBT+ staff, students and allies. The event will focus on:

  • Are LGBT+ allies needed for UoR staff and students?
  • What is an ally?
  • What do we want allies to do?
  • Q&A.

The session will be followed by a networking lunch.

All students and staff welcome. Booking (for lunch numbers) via email to Sinead O’Flynn for students, via the usual booking system on ESS for staff.

 

Trans Awareness Training (led by local teacher and former UoR student Rosemary Taylor), Thursday 14 February, 10:00-12:00, Room 128, Edith Morley, Whiteknights Campus

The Transgender Spectrum is complex. This session looks at the range and variety of people who identify in one way or another as Transgender. An important aspect of this is to realise that there are many misconceptions that come from media coverage of trans people. The variables of gender, sexuality and other aspects are explored and explained, including: What it is like to be Trans; Coming Out; Being Trans in Public; Being Trans at work; How do staff react to trans people? The session includes time for discussion, questions and answers.

All students and staff welcome. Booking via email to Sinead O’Flynn for students, via the usual booking system on ESS for staff.

Developing the African Woman

by Beth Rebisz, PhD student

For six weeks this summer I was based in Nairobi conducting research in the Kenyan National Archives. As this was my first fieldwork trip to Kenya I was excited to see what the archives held and was able to use this opportunity to scope out further sites for research, meeting individuals I will be able to conduct oral history interviews with. As part of my PhD thesis aims to explore the experiences of Kenyan women during the Mau Mau conflict in the 1950s, I was intrigued to learn more about the community development programmes enforced during this decade by the British colonial government to boost ‘self-help’ amongst African women during this period of intense warfare. Maendeleo ya Wanawake was an organisation established by the colonial government in 1952 with the proclaimed aim of encouraging the ‘advancement of African women’. So, what were these advances and what did the colonial government mean by ‘self-help’?

It is little surprise when placing this in the context of the 1950s that classes run by Maendeleo ya Wanawake, often with the support of the British Red Cross, centred on domestic duties and crafts. Kenyan women attended training on how to keep their homes clean, how to wash their babies effectively as well as cooking classes focused on preparing typical British recipes. In terms of their recreational sessions, sewing, crocheting, singing and dancing took centre stage. It is important to note that membership to Maendeleo ya Wanawake was not free, however with joining the organisation women could access resources for their homes, childcare to attend classes as well as further incentives such as competition prizes and promotions to become paid leaders of their village and district clubs.

Photo credit: ICRC archives (ARR)

Delving into the monthly reports of the organisation, there are clear signs of disengagement of Kenyan women towards certain classes. Colonial officials saw this as an indication of Africans not wanting to help themselves. As a historian critically analysing this evidence, it is important to explore other reasons behind this and to consider the context of the proclaimed ‘civilising mission’ behind European colonisation of Africa. The described purpose of Maendeleo ya Wanawake may have been to encourage the ‘advancement of African women’, but this advancement was focused on Western ideals of women with little consideration of African womanhood. This sat within a wider aim coined by historians D. A. Low and John Lonsdale as the second colonial occupation. This aimed to develop African populations in a manner that prepared them both for independence and to ensure citizens became more governable.[1] By viewing these signs of Kenyan women’s disengagement to the classes organised by British officials within this wider context, one could instead interpret this as an act of defiance.

Curiously, Maendeleo ya Wanawake was established in 1952, on the eve of the declaration of a state of emergency across Kenya. While the British were fighting a brutal counter-insurgency campaign against Mau Mau guerrilla fighters calling for land and freedom from colonial rule, the Ministry of Community Development and Rehabilitation were not only forming Maendeleo ya Wanawake, they were also ‘rehabilitating’ detainees suspected of being part of the Mau Mau movement. This begs the question whether this organisation really centred on the ‘advancement of African women’, or whether their aim was two-fold; engineer Kenyan women into the idolised Western mother within the patriarchal household and steer them clear of any Mau Mau involvement. What is notable is that to this day Maendeleo ya Wanawake is thriving, now seen as a vehicle for women’s rights and gender equality within leadership and economic sectors, in Kenya. Despite the alarming purpose behind its formation, Kenyan women have transformed the society to fully embody the definition of ‘Maendeleo’; the Kiswahili term for ‘progress’.

[1] D. A. Low and John Lonsdale, ‘Towards the New Order 1945-1963’, in: D. A. Low & Alison Smith (eds) History of East Africa Vol III (Oxford, 1976), 13.

#MeToo, Brett Kavanaugh, and Anti-Feminist Backlash in the United States

by Elizabeth Barnes, PhD student

Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s brave testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee astonished the world, but her allegations were greeted with hostility by men in positions of power – a response which has deep roots in the history of sexual violence and social reform in the US.

In October 2017, in just 24 hours, 4.7 million people engaged with #MeToo on Twitter, recounting personal stories of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse. The movement arose in the wake of accusations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein; the phrase was coined by Tarana Burke in 2006, and popularised in 2017 by actress Alyssa Milano. Within 24 hours of #MeToo appearing, high-profile men, within the entertainment industry and beyond, began to lose their jobs and reputations. Women and men who had been silenced for years found themselves being listened to and believed.

It did not take long, however, for the anticipated backlash to begin. We have recently seen the culmination of that backlash unfold in the US Senate, but this is certainly not the first time that a cultural movement seeking increased protection for women against sexual violence has encouraged such a response from powerful men. Those who rushed to the defence of Brett Kavanaugh (accused of sexual abuse and misconduct by multiple women) appealed to deep-seated, historical anxieties about sexual crimes, women, and deceit.

The incredible successes of the age of consent movement in the US, for example, were soon challenged in the media and the courtroom in similar terms to the criticisms of #MeToo. This movement saw the age at which young women could consent to sexual relations increase to at least 16 in all states but one by 1920. The headlines from a 1919 edition of the Journal of Urology and Sexology, however, are all too similar to those we see plastered across current tabloids: ‘Giving Bit of Sugar to Young Girl Leads to Accusation of Innocent Man’; ‘Lying Child Found Out by Trick’; and, simply, ‘Characteristic Example of Female Revenge.’

These headlines and related stories were published together under the heading ‘Miscellaneous Cases of Rape.’ All of the collected stories involved girls and women making false allegations, deceiving authorities, and using accusations of rape to exert power over men. A recent Wall Street Journal piece (which essentially claimed that Dr Blasey Ford has falsified her allegations out of partisan interest) would not look out of place amongst these stories from a century ago, proclaiming her actions as ‘The #MeToo Kavanaugh Ambush’.

The implication that Dr Blasey Ford was fabricating her allegations against Brett Kavanaugh was voiced again during the senate hearing. Rachel Mitchell, questioning Blasey Ford on behalf of Republican senators, asked why she had taken a polygraph, on whose advice, and with whose funding. Mitchell also queried who had recommended Dr Blasey Ford’s counsel, and who was paying them. These lines of questioning play into the belief that women falsify allegations, either for their own gain or as pawns of others.

Similar thinking was also expressed during and after the campaigns for age of consent reform. The backlash hit not just girls, but all women, who had suddenly become much more capable of securing convictions against predatory men. One Supreme Court justice in 1892 remarked that rape allegations were ‘easily simulated,’ and that women’s testimony must be regarded with ‘suspicion.’[1]

Much like today, women as well as men sometimes endorsed these misogynistic narratives about sexual assault: girls ‘can get boys or men in trouble this way [and] then they laugh about it,’ remarked one mother in the 1930s, whose son had been jailed for statutory rape.[2] During the senate hearing, Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith defended Kavanaugh, stating that ‘opponents of Judge Kavanaugh are engaged in character assassination to destroy the reputation of a devoted public servant.’

It is never quite clear, however, what precisely individual women have to gain from falsifying allegations. What is very clear – but generally ignored – is exactly how much they stand to lose.

With all the progress that the #MeToo movement has made, attention remains on the behaviour of individual men, rather than the institutions that protect them. Ideas about sexuality and sexual violence that pervade US culture remain largely unchallenged and unchanged. In the immediate aftermath of the Weinstein allegations, men in power across the US were stating that ‘as a father’ or ‘as a husband’, they were horrified by the stories unfolding. Their concerns for women’s safety were still defined by their own (apparently paternalistic) relationship to women.

That narrative has now shifted, however. No longer are Republican men expressing the desire to defend and protect women from predatory men, but rather circling the wagons against accusations that may fall at their own door. ‘If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this,’ a White House Lawyer stated shortly after Dr Blasey Ford’s allegations were made public, ‘then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.’ Like their conservative predecessors, Kavanaugh’s defenders believe that sexual assault is a problem, but a rare one, frequently fabricated, and less important than the standing of reputable men.

 

[1] Hal Goldman, ‘”A Most Detestable Crime”: Character, Consent, and Corroboration in Vermont’s Rape Law, 1850-1920,’ in Merril D Smith (eds.), Sex Without Consent: Rape and Sexual Coercion in America (New York, 2001), 178-203, 193

[2] Estelle B. Freedman, Redefining Rape (Cambridge, MA, 2013), 165.