The internet seems to hold integral within it a constant tension between being watched and a supposed freedom.
Our Facebook accounts are covered in adverts which are meant to appeal to ‘people like us’, and this feeds back to YouTube, Amazon, eBay, Twitter… The internet is a partner to capitalism, giving us the supposedly one-stop solution product to whatever problem we searched for in the first place, or indeed, whatever problem could be inferred from the search.
This has a panopticon effect, causing us to police ourselves and the content we put out there, but do we? Ashamedly, my Facebook profile still has upon it many photos from drunken nights out. And whilst I might be more mindful of what I post now is anonymity ever really an option? We are told we have to have an internet presence for professional life, career opportunities, academic research, and for socialising, and I do not really see a way out.
The internet is a place where we can supposedly speak freely. ‘Pseudo-anonymity’ can give us the opportunity to post and say what we really think, but surely we wouldn’t be saying those things in the first place if we didn’t want someone to read them, validate them, and validate ourselves. And we are ultimately always aware of, if not someone watching, the potential for such surveillance that the internet not only provides but encourages. So even if we are anonymous (which ultimately seems quite appealing in such a world) we police ourselves as normal, as we do in everyday life and ordinary social situations.
In short, the internet potentially provides us with a space in which we can find community, liberation and support, particularly if we have a problem or condition that is not experienced throughout the vast population. It provides a space in which freedom of thought is a potential, but not necessarily a given, as through its tracking and panopticon affect we fear such freedom of thought which seems dangerous in a world where everything is archived and tracked and nothing is private.
However, ultimately, I do have something to say, and an “investment in the future”, and whilst I can’t control too heavily what is tracked about me whilst still taking advantage of the positive potential of the internet and social media sites, I can control what I post, write and say. And in a post-truth world where so many things can’t be controlled or trusted, I would like to take ownership of the things I say and think.
Other people are unavoidable in our understanding and experience of ourselves within the world. Humans are notoriously social creatures and so the relationships we have have shaped human existence – political, scientific, and cultural – since the beginning. Plato detailed how best we should live in political communities in The Republic. (1) Indeed, if humans had not developed relationships with one another, the species would not have continued. And we are alone in that aspect; whilst other animals have particularly violent, aggressive or just downright rare meetings and mating rituals, human sex and love (in its most typical and ‘successful’ form) has always been based, at least marginally, upon liking another human.
The relationships we have come to define us: do we like our friends because they are like ourselves, or do we become more similar as the friendship continues? I would argue that identity is always a performance and so the relationships we exist within come to ideologically shape and define who we are, not just within that relationship, but in others too. And then in turn, define the ways in which we perceive and understand ourselves in relation to others – whether preformative or authentic.
Love in particular comes to define the self – by feeling acceptance by another (at least as far as the fantasy goes) we might begin to accept the parts of ourselves we initially saw to be flaws.
But in a neoliberal and late capitalist world which, as David Harvey suggested, has meant “in short the financialisaton of everything”, has the way we consider love changed? (1)
Whilst capitalist mindsets have commodified almost everything in our lives (or tried to) – from leisure time, to internet browsing, to science, medicine, our bodies and even art – love somehow remains untouchable. Love has no ‘purpose’, no ‘value’ whilst simultaneously being a priceless ideal to which we much strive. It unites us and can bring about realisation and potential revolution – in arguably the most famous dystopian novel of them all, 1984, who opened Winston’s eyes the inequalities of society if not Julia, and what was their sex but a symbolic act of resistance? (2)
However, has technology prompted and allowed the commodification of love as the final frontier? Dating sites are advertised all over the Facebook pages of those who have an undisclosed relationship status on their profile, like a one-stop solution for a romantic relationship we are persuaded we cannot be complete, happy or fulfilled without. So Isaac Newton discovered gravity, oh but he never married? That’s so sad.
In this sense, then, has love become commodified? Our search for it is tracked, every swipe left or right logged to ‘calibrate’ future potential pairings. And adverts adorn the margins.
If the immediate satisfactions of consumer society have meant “the pleasure is in the hunting, not in the prey”, has capitalism reduced love to hunt, thrill, sex, only? (3) Removing it of its long-term aspect and instead reducing it to match after match, date after date, fuck after fuck, like the inbuilt obsolescence we have become so used to everywhere else, particularly on the smartphones upon which we do most of this potential match-making. We always need the newest product, the upgraded model, and thus, our lives are dominated by the idea that the next best thing is always just around the corner. Mr Right could finally be around that corner too.
Capitalism has persuaded us that nothing is built to last, or indeed shouldn’t be. But still as a species, we cling onto the fairy-tale impossible ideal of a happily ever after:
“Our almost-instinct almost true: / What will survive of us is love.” (4)
Manchester is a city recognised globally – as a centre for business, football, and culture. And whilst it is, now, easy to be proud of our city and its worldly reputation, Manchester was not always like this. Before 1996, Manchester was not well known internationally, and had failed several bids to host major sporting competitions, such as the Summer Olympics in 1996. So what changed?
An IRA bomb hit Manchester on 15th June 1996 and shook the city and its identity to its very core.
Whilst nobody could claim the bomb was a positive thing, it did stimulate a rapid regeneration of the city centre, resulting in massive investment and major changes to the layout and ‘feel’ of the city centre. Manchester’s public were keen to rebuild their city and show their resilience in the face of destruction.
Since then, Manchester has changed its fabric and its ‘feel’. It has grown – in terms of its culture and its economy, as well as the two intertwined – into the UK’s second metropolitan centre. Manchester has taken its place on a global stage and become a global brand: cool, hip, cutting-edge. The arts have flourished, with the rise of the Manchester International Festival drawing crowds from around the world to sit right on the Town Hall steps. The ‘Manchester Miracle’ continues to evolve, fuelled by Northern grit in all its multicultural manifestations.
Particularly in light of Brexit, which was announced yesterday, as a city we need to consider the next steps in Manchester’s development within the UK, with the Northern Powerhouse agenda, and within the world. We explored the myths of regeneration and celebrated Manchester’s phenomenal redevelopment over the past twenty years by holding an academic symposium and a public engagement launch on 15th June to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ‘Manchester bomb’.
The daytime symposium event featured two panels. The first was entitled: ‘20 Years of ‘Manchester Miracles? The Bomb and Regeneration’ and addressed the socio-economic and cultural regeneration of Manchester over the past 20 years, looking at how the city can best serve its citizens in the future.
Joanne Massey, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University, introduced the panel by exploring how capitalism and culture all affect our experience of spaces within the city. She quoted David Pinder: “to change everyday life it is also necessary to change space”. This regeneration of the city centre, then, was vital to developing the identity of Manchester and Mancunions in the years to follow the bombing. Similarly, Kevin Ward, Professor of Human Geography at University of Manchester, explained “The bomb invoked a sense of Mancunion pride: this will not beat us”.
Dave Haslam, author and DJ, delved into the cultural regeneration of Manchester, explaining that the “true Manchester Miracle” which stimulated the city’s sense of identity and culture was that it provided a platform for working-class artists, for example Joy Division and Shelagh Delaney. He explained that this is vital to maintaining the city’s reputation as a cultural hub in the future: “We need to ensure young people from Manchester are empowered and valued, and that radical creativity is supported”, even when familiar cultural venues, such as the Hacienda disappear. He concluded that we need to “be radical, be different, be open minded”.
Jonathan Schofield, journalist and author, debunked the myths surrounding Manchester as a ‘working class city’, and instead of glorifying the past, he suggested that we need to consider the city as it is now. Similarly, Michael Taylor, External Engagement Advisor at Manchester Met argued “regeneration is about thinking about what young people want now”.
The second panel featured Dominique Tessier, from Café Historique, Abigail Ward, from Manchester District Music Archive, Katie Milestone, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Manchester Met, Jon Binnie, Reader in Human Geography at Manchester Met and Gary James, Lecturer in Sports History at Manchester Met. It was entitled ‘Regional Identity vs. Global Brand: Who is Greater Manchester?’ and looked at Manchester’s global identities as they relate to music, football and LGBT communities. The panel explored questions such as: To what extent do the Premier League, the Factory legacy and the Gay Village promote and complement the multitude of Manchester’s histories of success? How can we make the most of the manifold futures signposted by the city’s rich history and diverse heritage?
The evening celebration event, which launched the Humanities in Public Festival for 16/17 centred on the theme of Greater Manchester and Northern Identity, began with an exhibition of artwork from A New Manchester Alphabet. A New Manchester Alphabet is a snapshot of Manchester in 2015, it featured illustrations and poetry from students at the Manchester Writing School and Manchester School of Art.
The event began with a performance by Hannah and Sketch, from Factory Youth Zone, who sang a song entitled ‘A Day in Town’, which perfectly captured the danger, fear and misery on the day of the bomb: “on a day in town/a sudden noise/shook the ground”.
Dave Haslam, who was master of ceremonies, introduced Dr Sharon Handley, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, who spoke about the Humanities in Public festival. Followed by Helen Laville, Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience, who said “I believe very passionately in the Humanities in Public Festival. The list of events in front of us is so wonderful”. Helen explained how proud she is to tell people “I live in Manchester”.
Jaycy, Fizz and Billy from Factory Youth Zone presented two parts of their documentary Ourmanchester Ourselves, which explores the history leading up to the bombing, what happened on the day, and the aftermath of the bomb. The first part they showed was What Happened on the Day and featured interviewees sharing their experiences of June 15th 1996. One of the interviewees asked: “why our city?”.
The second part of the documentary explored Manchester’s Regeneration, which was made possible by donations, governmental investment, and money from the European Union. Lucy Meacock, British journalist and presenter employed by ITV Granada, explained “Manchester wasn’t the same after the bomb: it was better, it was a better place to live. Despite everything that happened, Manchester thrived”.
Michael Symmons Roberts, Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, treated the audience to some poetry reflecting Manchester’s identity and spirit, even in the face of destruction. One poem imagined Salford docks as a mermaid, “the Salford mermaid and her song”. Another entitled World into Fragments features the lines: “Plate windows shiver into diamonds,/smoked office towers fold into tobacco heaps,/screens give way to white noise,/then blow”, “A world more fragile than we thought”.
Professor Berthold Schoene then introduced and launched the D/Evolving Manchester programme, of which Humanities in Public is a part. He explained that the Humanities in Public programme is all about “the work we do and how it relates to what worries you” in everyday life.
The Ordsall Acapella Choir then sung us out in true Manchester style with a beautiful rendition of Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’.
We now find ourselves on the verge of Brexit and of Greater Manchester Devolution – the next step in the city region’s contemporary evolution. It has become increasingly important for Manchester to consider its regeneration and development for the future, so we can remain a global city with a distinct identity. In the words of Michael Symmons Roberts, we certainly do live in “A world more fragile than we thought”.
To watch the Ourmanchester Ourselves in full, please go to www.ourmanchesterourselves.co.uk
Humanities in Public will return in September 2016 with a full programme of events on the topic of Greater Manchester and Northern Identity. For updates, follow us on Twitter (@mmu_hssr) and check our website for the full schedule this autumn: www.mmu.ac.uk/hip
This was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University website.
Following the immensely successful Encountering Corpses II, Manchester Gothic Arts Group produced a creative response: Encountering More Corpses.
The Encountering Corpses symposium at Manchester Metropolitan University was based upon the research of Professor Craig Young from the department of Human Geography. Professor Craig Young is a Human Geographer with interests in the intersection of place, landscape, history, memory and the politics of identity, particularly as expressed through issues surrounding death and encounters with the dead body in the context of a range of socio-cultural, political, economic and technological contexts.
Following the symposium, Manchester Gothic Arts Group (MGAG), who have become increasingly well-known through their engagement with the Gothic Manchester Festival, produced art-work to challenge and confront depictions of the dead body, the ethics of organ donation and the mania surrounding celebrity deaths. Their artwork explored particularly the difference between medical discourses surrounding the dead and the real lived human experience of death.
Dr John Troyer (Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath), Dr Julie Seymour (Hull York Medical School), and Dr Trish Green (Hull York Medical School) explored organ donation in the first panel at the Encountering Corpses symposium. Matthew Carson, of MGAG, described organ donation as a “big subject for the UK”. The group explored the economy, ethics and stories of organ donation through their artwork.
As a result of the event, Carson has signed up to be an organ donor. His work at the exhibition included some simple pencil sketches of organs most needed for transplantation, for example, the heart, lungs, and kidney. Carson described the sketches as “experimental”. The simplicity of these sketches juxtaposes the complicated reality of organ donation, where, as Dr Julie Seymour explained, narratives of organ donation as providing ‘the gift of life’ can often hide the inequalities behind the practice, for example who gets organs when there is a shortage of donations. Carson told me about how in his research he had discovered the story of a man in China who had been declared “legally dead”, and how this story had brought the contradictions to light for him.
Matt Carson and Kolyn Amor, bearing this in mind, created The Table of Transplant Statistics, taking inspiration from the periodic table. The table depicted transplant operations carried out in 2015, “including those patients still waiting for an operation and those for whom it is too late”. Neil Watkin’s clockwork heart also drew on the medical interventions used to preserve life, for example, pacemakers. He said: “Most of the time our bodies run like clockwork, but sometimes a vital component fails”.
Cultural Encounters were discussed in the second panel at the Encountering Corpses symposium. This panel included Dr Jonathan Westaway (UCLAN), Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce (University of York), and Dr Gemma Angel (UCL).
Luxury in death is not given to celebrity bodies. Kolyn Amor’s I’m Mortal Magnetism featured magnets with images of celebrity corpses on, including Bruce Lee, Chairman Mao, Bela Lugosi, Elvis Presley and Edgar Alan Poe. Amor invited viewers to guess the order in which the celebrities died. This satirised the capitalist market of celebrity merchandise, and also questioned the mania and obsession famously following some celebrity deaths. Neil Watkin similarly displayed artwork connected to Ian Curtis’ death.
Liz Watkin challenged the medical definitions of the dead body in her artwork, encouraging us to look and think deeper than the physical corpse. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a ‘corpse’ as “A dead (usually human) body”, which Watkin refers to as “a short, and somewhat stark statement”. Watkin said, “Just because “life” has been pronounced “extinct”, it is not the end of how you feel about the person or the relationship you once had with them”.
The installation featured clock cases with items with a personal history inside, to encourage viewers to consider the lived reality of death as opposed to medical definitions where everything is black and white. She said “My artwork on this occasion is personal, having lost both of my parents over a recent and short period of time”. The artwork included roses, which died as the exhibition continued, and crystals in place of tears: “tears like hard sparkling crystals of emotion”. Watkin’s work beautifully contemplates the process of mourning, encouraging viewers to think, not only about the deceased, but about everyone the death will affect.
The word ‘death’ is filled with a multitude of connotations. Death is inevitably and contradictorily a part of life, and is such a concept that is impossible to understand. Manchester Gothic Arts Group, through their artwork, are not seeking understanding of death, but exploration of our lived experience of it, through medical encounters, media encounters, and emotional encounters, which are inexplicably entwined.
Carson said “organ donation struck me as one of the few occasions where artwork has a real world impact. Through our artwork we want to encourage more people to ‘tick all the boxes’ and save somebody else’s loved one”.
To find out more about the Encountering Corpses project click here.
This piece was also published on Manchester Metropolitan University’s website.
The 15th June 1996 is a day Manchester should always remember. The events of this day became vital to the city’s regeneration and growth in the years to follow. Why? Because of a bombing on Corporation street which caused widespread damage.
When Clare Molyneux, from Open the Door Theatre, and Richard March, cheif executive of The Factory Youth Zone, told the young people coming through their doors about this vital piece of Manchester’s history they found that “only one of the young people in our group knew that a bomb had ever gone off”. Twenty years ago, it would seem impossible that Manchester could forget such a vital part of its history. However, in schools now, there is little mention of the Manchester IRA bombing and how it made Manchester into the city it is today.
The young people from the Factory Youth Zone have created a documentary, funded by the Heritage Lottery, called Our Manchester Ourselves to educate others about the bombing. The documentary covers the history of the bombing and why it happened. Clare said: “This project is the fulfilment of the vision of the Factory Youth Zone’s young people, to educate their peers about the IRA bombing of the Arndale Centre in 1996 and how that event changed not only the landscape but also the heritage and history of Manchester and its people”.
The young people had the opportunity to travel to Ireland to carry out interviews. They visited Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliament, where they interviewed Pat Sheehan, a Sinn Fein politician who formerly took part in hunger strikes. They also met with the Northern Ireland Youth Forum’s United for Change group who work to end the historic segregation and move towards a positive future for the area. Clare explained, “young people don’t want war”. Fizz, who has been a key contributor to the project, described that many had said “what happened was in our parents’ generation, we want peace”.
The documentary also explores what happened in Manchester on the day, through interviews with people who were in the city centre and some of the 212 people who were injured by the bomb. Interviews explore the aftermath of the bomb, particularly the regeneration in the city centre. Shannon who has been a vital part of the project, said “I didn’t know anything about it before. Learning about it in the places that it happened, from the people who lived it, made it real”.
Although the bomb destroyed much of the city centre, it did act as a catalyst for Manchester’s regeneration, as many parts of the city centre were rebuilt, repaired and redesigned. The documentary features interviews with Sir Howard Bernstein, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, and Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, who talk about Manchester’s architectural regeneration since the bombing. The film, according to JC shows how people worked to “bring Manchester back to life” after a period of fear, danger and despair.
We now find ourselves on the verge of Greater Manchester Devolution – the next step in the city region’s contemporary evolution. Harpurhey, the ward where The Factory Youth Zone is located, ranks second worst in England for the effect of long-term deprivation on children. In the words of Richard March, Harpurhey suffers from “a token trickle-down effect”, which results in unemployment being almost double the national rate and 56.2% of children living in poverty. Although, the Northern Powerhouse agenda will result in greater investment in the North of England, and Manchester in particular, we risk expenditure being focused in the city centre and directed away from the poorer wards who need it most.
Our Manchester Ourselves chronicles Manchester’s history in a way that is personal to its residents. The film brings to life a surprisingly ignored and untaught part of Manchester’s history by giving viewers a lived and felt version of history. This knowledge will be vital to Manchester’s evolution in the future.
From September 2016 to June 2017 Manchester Metropolitan University invites you to take part in a wide-ranging festival of discussion, exploration and debate on the theme of ‘D/Evolving Manchester’. D/Evolving Manchester Festival is designed to inspire and engage everyone in Greater Manchester, and beyond, with the challenges and opportunities that devolution offers to the region. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the ‘Manchester bomb’, we are holding an academic symposium and public-engagement launch on June 15th to celebrate Manchester’s phenomenal redevelopment over the past twenty years.
We will launch this programme on June 15th with a full day and evening of discussion and celebration, including a screening of Our Manchester Ourselves.
Tickets for the evening celebration are free and available here.
Tickets for the day-time symposium are free and available here.
The Factory Youth Zone will be screening Our Manchester, Ourselves for the first time at HOME on 4th June. You can find out more information about the project at The Factory Youth Zone website. The film will go live on the documentary website on Saturday at 1.15pm.
This was also published on Manchester Metropolitan University’s website.
Dr Tim Edensor, Reader in Division of Geography & Environmental Management, and Dr James Cheng, Senior Lecturer in GIS and Urban Planning, have recently returned from a research trip to China.
At the event, Dr Edensor delivered a keynote lecture on Urban Theory Beyond the West. Dr Cheng gave a presentation on Big Data for Urban Studies in China: A Comparative Perspective, in which he explored the opportunities of big data for urban studies application in the UK and China. He compared the main challenges facing each country and their solutions.
He said, “A city is a complex system with complicated interactions between transport, land use, environment and population at a variety of scales. Understanding these interactions is the prerequisite for predicting urban changes and supporting sustainable urban development planning”.
During their trip, Dr Cheng was appointed Visiting Professor in GIS and Human Geography at the Key Laboratory for Beibu Gulf Environmental Change and Resources Utilization under Ministry of Education in China.
The event was a key networking opportunity, and further collaborations between Manchester Metropolitan University and Nanjing Normal University have been organised. Dr Edensor and Dr Cheng plan to co-author two papers, one this year and another in 2017, between Manchester Met and NNU. This work is in addition to three joint papers between Manchester Met and NNU, which have been published previously, and a successful bid for a joint research grant between Dr Cheng and Professor Qiyan Wu from NNU.
Dr Sam Edwards, Senior Lecturer in American History at Manchester Metropolitan University, has been shortlisted for the Gladstone Prize for the best book on a non-British history subject for ‘Allies in Memory’ which he published last year.
The book explores the American commemoration following the second world war in the ruins of Europe. He looks at not only the plaques, stained-flass windows and commemorative signposts established by agents of the US government, but also those built by Americans who were personally mourning lost comrades. The book focuses on the processes and practices of commemoration in Normandy and East Anglia as Dr Edwards tells the study of post-war Euro-American cultural contact, and of the acts of transatlantic commemoration that this has bequeathed.
It was described as “enthralling”, “beautifully written”, and “carefully researched” by academics from a range of institutions.
Dr Edwards described Allies in Memory as “a labour of love, which in many respects ‘started’ when I was a teenager fascinated by the the wartime American presence ‘over here’. With a project that was so personal, you do get a little worried that you might have lost track of what other people will find important and interesting”.
The Gladstone Prize was launched by the Royal History Society in 1998 in honour of the value Gladstone placed on the study of history. The prize offers an annual award of £1,000 for a work of history on a topic not primarily related to British history that is the author’s first sole book publication.
Dr Edwards said of being shortlisted: “I was absolutely thrilled to hear that I’d been shortlisted by the Royal Historical Society for the Gladstone Prize. Judging by the outstanding work of last year’s joint-winners, competition for the number one spot will be intense, so I’m just over the moon to make the final list.”
The winner will be announced at a reception following the Prothero Lecture on 6 July 2016.
Buy Allies of Memory on Amazon.
Dr Lucy Burke and Dr Thomas Rudman, from the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University, have written a joint essay that will be published in Disability and the Global South in June.
Dr Burke and Dr Rudman explore the ways in which the film re-enacts the perceived political failings of the Sandinista Revolution and fails to trouble the dominant liberal political narratives of popular cultural representation. In the essay, they argue that this is tied to the interpellation of a particular audience (educated and metropolitan) whose privileged position is never questioned within the film. We will also consider various critical constructions of subaltern identities in the context of disability studies in order to argue that these raise important questions about the political objectives of disability studies itself.
Disability and the Global South is the first peer reviewed international journal, which publishes high quality work focused exclusively on all aspects of the disability experience in the global South. It provides an interdisciplinary platform for material that is critical, challenging, and engaging from a range of epistemological perspectives and disciplines.
The essay received fantastic reviewer comments, with one describing it as “a truly excellent, informed, and stimulating article written with deep sensitivities to issues and discourses of coloniality flowing through multiple practices” a wonderful and major resource for scholarship in the field.
The next edition of Disability and the Global South will be published in June. More details can be found at their website at: https://dgsjournal.org/
This was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University Humanities Faculty website (http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/hip/news/detail/index.php?id=4331)
The 1960s was a changing world for women, with increased affluence, cosmopolitanism and explosions in popular culture like never before. Following the Second World War, traditional gender roles loosened and women were given more work opportunities and more sexual freedom
We explored the impact of alleged newfound freedoms for women in the 1960s at an event entitled Dolly Birds and Swinging Cities. The event examined “whether the 60s were swinging for everyone”, in the words of Dr Katie Milestone, joint convener of the event and Senior Lecturer in Sociology. Katie argued that there was “huge inequality” between women, and some women were not afforded such freedoms until the 1970s.
Dr Joan Ormrod, joint event convener and Programme Leader for Film and Media Studies, introduced some of the “contexts and contradictions” of the decade. Many social changes acted as double edged swords for many women. Whilst more women went into work, they did not reach “dizzy heights” and the ideal feminine trope was “a woman who is professional, but a bit of fluff on the side”. Fashion gave women a freedom of expression, but also inflicted pressure to have the ideal slender body shape. The emergence of the birth control pill could offer sexual freedom, but not freedom under social conventions that still surrounded sex. Indeed the pill, which was made available on the NHS in 1961, was only available to married women until 1967. After this time however, women experienced added pressure to say “yes” to sex.
Comics and magazines for girls reached peak popularity during this time, and were particularly important in perpetuating messages of girlhood and what it meant to be a woman. Jackie was the best-selling teen magazine in Britain for ten years, with sales rising from an initial 350,000 to 605,947 in 1976. Dr Mel Gibson, from the University of Northumbria, spoke on British Girls and their Comics. These magazines gave confusing and often contradictory versions of girlhood, for example, one story in Bunty suggested social mobility was possible, whilst also showing that working class women would be excluded by middle class women. Surprisingly though, many stories had messages of political activism, and ultimately suggested a girl could grow up to be like anyone, even like the celebrities that covered the magazines’ centre pages.
Women emerged more than ever into the public eye and the celebrities of the day became a driving force behind developments in fashion. Dr Pamela Church Gibson, from University of the Arts, London, spoke about The Impact of New Female Icons in bringing about the social revolution of the 60s. Dr Gibson explained that the term ‘dolly bird’ has distinctly sexual connotations, as “dolly” was an 18th century term for a prostitute, and “bird” suggested sexual availability. The stars of the decade performed sexual availability through their fashions, which were much more revealing than those of the 50s.
The revealing outfits worn by women were a way they could gain power. Dr Georgina Gregory, from UCLan, looked at Go-Go dancing to explore women’s ‘erotic capital’ in the 1960s. The dance was so popular that fashion items, such as Go-Go boots, were named after the dance. Go-Go dancers typically wore exaggerated versions of the fashions of the day, for example skirts shorter than the norm. This allowed women to capitalise on their sex appeal and femininity. According to Gregory, the dance’s high energy and freeform reflected the growing individualism in post-war England. Before the Second World War, partner dancing was very much the norm; however, Go-Go dancing saw couples dancing side-by-side as young people rejected the traditional ways of living. Following WWII, women in particular were no longer cushioned by the stability of traditional roles, and sought new ways to express themselves and gain power, through fashion, dance and a “performance of sexual availability” that the women did not possess in reality.
The same apparent availability was seen in representation of women in cinema. Professor Ewa Mazierska, from University College London, spoke on Girls in Polish Cinema of the 1960s and Early 1970s. Poland was the most destroyed country in the Second World War, and consequently women in cinema following the war “had no lives as ‘girls’, but only as workers rebuilding the city”. However, by the 1960s, Poland had achieved a period of “small stabilisation” and Polish people were encouraged to lead private lives and enjoy the city they had worked hard to reconstruct. In films such as Goodbye ‘til Tomorrow, Marguerite is shown exploring the city with the help of a young man. However, because of the social conventions and restrictions that still surrounded sex, girls never fulfilled romantic relationships in movies: Mazierska explained “cities were better than sex”. By the 1970s the city became a dangerous place, particularly to working class girls: “culture sped up, and joy evaporated from life”.
Even though the emergence of the pill lead to an increased availability of sex, this was mostly afforded to men. Surprisingly, sunglasses became a way women could express their ‘erotic capital’ whilst simultaneously detaching themselves from the men who may benefit from it. Dr Vanessa Brown, Nottingham Trent University, spoke aboutCool, Sunglasses and the Ultimate Modern Woman. She explained how sunglasses originated from driving goggles. They were seen as a masculine accessory to such an extent that early advertisements for women’s sunglasses did not feature the dark lenses that they had in reality.
It was this distinctive ‘male-ness’ that made sunglasses so distinctly ‘cool’ when the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O wore them. Dr Brown defined cool as “a special form of composure signifying an idealised response to the disruptive forces of modernity”. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s Hepburn’s sunglasses allowed Holly Golightly to remain concealed even in her most vulnerable moments. The sunglasses interrupted the male gaze, and allowed the wearer to appear independent, detached, and introspective. Hence, sunglasses became a symbol of modernity, an embodiment of the way in which fashion allowed new ways of expression for women, and a rejection of the patriarchal control that had dominated the previous decades. Other celebrities manifested such a change, for example Nico. Gary Needham, from Nottingham Trent University, spoke on Performing Nico… and described how Nico started as a fresh faced girl in the 1950s but by the 70s became repellent and surly in her public image.
The sixties allowed women increased freedom and affluence, but inevitably, social conventions did not catch up until the later decades. The emergence of the pill led to women’s exploitation as much as it did their sexual freedom and the decade is rife with contradictions. Women had to seek out new forms of expression to gain power and reject patriarchy in a feminist movement which is still ongoing today.