Gender in Catastrophic Times
Online symposium, Thursday 23 September – Friday 24 September, 2021
Program can be downloaded here – Gender in Catastrophic Times Conference Program
The 2020s have thus far been defined by catastrophe. The decade began in the midst of widespread environmental devastation, with bushfires across Australia choking entire cities until whole towns fled the flames, followed by fires in the Amazon and across the west coast of the United States as well. 2020 has since been designated one of the hottest years on record. Political crises have been rampant, too. The world has witnessed the continuing blight of white supremacy, epitomised by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers, which fuelled the global Black Lives Matter movement. Australia is beset with the ongoing damage of colonisation, such as the over 400 Indigenous deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission in Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Even 2021 began in political turmoil, with the world watching as the U.S. Capitol building was stormed by right-wing extremists. The beginnings of this decade have been characterized by catastrophe in multiple ways, even before we consider the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused inconceivable loss of life world-wide and exposed many deep-seated social inequalities.
In this symposium, we turn to past instances of difficult times to understand how societies have responded to and survived catastrophe. We specifically seek to understand gender in catastrophic times: how is gender mediated through and by catastrophe? How has gender contributed to or even caused catastrophe? And how have people reconsidered or reframed gender and gender norms in light of catastrophe? We seek to understand this not for a cynical recirculation of trauma, but in the hopes of searching for a means of emerging from the current disasters through which we are living.
Paula Michaels, Associate Professor of History, Monash University
Sandy O’Sullivan, Professor of Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University
Best Paper Lilith Symposium 2021 – HDR category
Jessica Urwin, “Irati Wanti (The Poison, Leave It): Gendered and Indigenous responses to nuclear catastrophe in South Australia”
Urwin’s paper presents an original and thoughtful exploration of the Irati Wanti (the poison, leave it) campaign, which seeks to expose the potential environmental and cultural consequences – and injustices – of the Howard Government’s plan for nuclear waste disposal. Led by the Coober Pedy senior Aboriginal women (the Kungkas), the Irati Wanti campaign is considered in this paper as an articulation of both women’s gendered and cultural obligations to their country. By bringing together a wide range of official sources, contemporary newspaper accounts, and archival material pertaining to the campaign, Urwin reveals how the plan threatened the Kungkas both as women and Indigenous people with a vital connection to the environment. In doing so, her work shifts the common focus from the British nuclear tests in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s to reveal a more complex history of the nation’s engagement with nuclear power.
Francesca Baldwin, “A Soldier and a Woman: (Re)Negotiating Gender in Female Combatant Narratives of Civil Conflict in Ethiopia, 1974-1991”
Through the skilful use of oral interviews and with an eye to legacy, Baldwin’s paper explores the meaning of capacity in the ascription of gender identities in civil conflict in Ethiopia. The site of their study is Adwa, northern Tigray, where the Tigray People’s Liberation Front had a policy which allowed female participation at an equal level to their male peers, but which in doing so placed particular restraints on their civil role as “women” in traditional gender terms. Baldwin’s work sits within scholarship which considers the dual liberation struggle of war for those engaged in combat – and the failure of emancipation to be realised post-conflict for those who perform outside their traditional roles. By drawing on Butler’s definition of gender as performative, and in suggesting that “the categories of gender and war continuously (re)shape each other”, Baldwin’s pertinent contribution is a reminder that past engagement in emancipatory action can have a contradictory legacy, and ongoing violent and violating consequences, as was experienced in the November 2020 conflict.
Emma Carson, “Separation, Letters and Negotiating Gender in World War II”
Carson’s paper reveals how gender identities influenced the hopes, fears, fantasies and anxieties expressed in correspondence between romantic couples during the Second World War. This insightful and nuanced exploration of wartime letters draws on an impressive level of archival research, skilfully identifying and analysing meaningful case studies from the wealth of material consulted. This work challenges the contention posited by other historians that the war was a period of progressive changes for gender roles within romantic relationships, revealing instead the lengths to which women went to reassure men that traditional masculine-feminine dynamics were still in place and would be fully restored at the war’s end.
Best Paper Lilith Symposium 2021 – ECR category
Rebecca Ream, “Staying with the trouble of catastrophe: A feminist response from Shelley’s monster”
Ream’s paper draws on the critical concept of timespacemattering to explore how confrontations between nature and culture present as feminist catastrophes within two key literary works, Mary Shelley’s 1831 novel Frankestein; or, The Modern Prometheus and Jeanette Winterson’s contemporary reimagining, Frankisstein: A Love Story. Ream’s creative response engages deeply with feminist theory to interrogate the gendered nature of concepts such as scientific and technological advancement, and vividly brings to life the continuities between past and present in this regard. The final result is a thoughtful treatment of how the threat of dystopian futures have weighed on feminist consciousness from the Industrial Revolution to the climate change era.
Dr Iva Glisic, Dr Samantha Owen, Dr Alana Piper
Monash University, Friday 8 November, 2019
Feminist thought and feminist movements are in a state of constant evolution and contestation. The recent global rise of conservatism and authoritarian populism has been met with renewed and vocal opposition to the patriarchy, evident in the popularity of women’s marches and the strength of the #MeToo movement. Masculinity has come under increasing critical scrutiny in this changed socio-political context, but what of its gendered, relational opposite, ‘femininity’? How can the history of the broad and diverse movements known as ‘feminism’ frame understandings of our political present?
Griffith University, Friday 15 September, 2017
The symposium is intended to celebrate and build upon the academic scholarship which explores women in historically male dominated spheres, such as police, military, medicine and academia, governance and executive leadership positioned within the centre of feminist historical analysis. It will explore how gendered norms are reflected, reinscribed and contested through perceptions of women, physical and psychological, and encourage consideration of new methods and sources for studying the long standing moral construct of women as God’s police.
Tim Prenzler, Professor of Criminology, University of Sunshine Coast
Katarina Carroll, Commissioner of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
Flesh and Blood: A Feminist Symposium on Embodied Histories
Australian National University, Friday May 8, 2015
The symposium was intended to celebrate and build upon the rich tradition of placing the body at the centre of feminist historical analysis. It explored how gendered norms are reflected, reinscribed and contested through bodies, and encouraged consideration of new methods and sources for studying the elusive bodies of the past.
Joanna Bourke, Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London
Joy Damousi, Professor of History at The University of Melbourne and Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellow.
Download the programme here: Lilith-Programme-2015
‘Women Without Men: Spinsters, widows and deserted wives in the nineteenth century and beyond’
Australian National University, Friday 10 May 2013
The inaugural conference of the relaunched Lilith: A Feminist History Journal was held on Friday 10 May 2013, following the Allan Martin week of events at the School of History at ANU. The keynote speaker Professor Carolyn Steedman was the Allan Martin lecturer for 2013. The conference was sponsored by the ANU Gender Institute.
Download conference program here. Women Without Men Conference Program.
‘Women Without Men: Spinsters, widows and deserted wives in the nineteenth century and beyond’
Nineteenth century colonial Australia and New Zealand are commonly viewed as a man’s world, just as colonialism and the imperial project have been frequently gendered male. While women have been added to our picture of the colonial world in recent years it has been as adjuncts to male enterprise, as ‘colonial helpmeets’. They have been grated roles as civilising agents of empire and as domestic wives and mothers. Nevertheless, women on their own have proved problematic within this story. As ‘damned whores’ or domestic servants they appear briefly on the colonial stage before taking up their prescribed vocations as wives. But not all women married, and of those that did many found themselves on their own, often with children to support, having been widowed or deserted. In spite of this, few historians, with notable exceptions such as Shurlee Swain and Renate Howe, have dealt with how these women navigated the man’s world of Australia and New Zealand in the nineteenth century.
This conference seeks to place these ‘women without men’ at the centre. It will explore themes of financial and social independence that women in the nineteenth and into the twentieth century chose for themselves, or had thrust upon them by circumstances. While there has been more discussion of women alone in the twentieth century, particularly in relation to their wartime experiences, a consideration of continuities and difference over time is valuable. similarly, placing the antipodes within a wider context of empire and viewing ‘single’ women through a transnational lens offers different perspectives on what might have hitherto been considered peculiar to one country.
The conference organisers would like to thank the ANU Gender Institute and the ANU School of History for their support.