Report: Reading Group 23/01/2020

The first SWW-DTP Gender and Sexuality Cluster Reading Group for the 19/20 academic year was held on the 23 January 2020 at the University of Bristol. We were pleased to see so many researchers across the consortium in attendance or calling in via Skype. Many thanks to all of you who took part!


Classen, Constance, ‘Introduction’, in The Color of Angels: Cosmology, Gender and the Aesthetic Imagination (Oxon: Routledge, 1998), pp. 2-10

Chosen by Annie Strausa: ‘Sensuous and Emotional Geographies in Twentieth Century Women’s Writing’

Annie informed us that Constance Classen’s work greatly influenced her research both prior to and during the writing of her PhD. She was particularly interested by Classen’s attempts to chart a historical trajectory of the senses, and the consideration of how visuality has come to dominate modern culture. We discussed Classen’s interest in how human sensibilities are mapped to gender in the text (i.e. women and the senses, men and rationality) and agreed that, perhaps, Classen’s analysis was a little too tentative and makes little attempt to deconstruct such binaries. For example, we recognised that, even though conceptualising women in terms of the sensory may incite notions of disgust or the abject, such implications are not explored further in the text.

We also considered the ways in which a gradual reduction of the sensory world became more apparent in the wake of modernity, and how this may relate to ideas of gender in different societies.


Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, in Visual and Other Pleasures (London: Palgrave, 1989), pp. 14-27 

Chosen by Ewan Short: ‘Imperial Women and Political Legitimacy in Byzantium: 1028-1024’

Ewan was particularly interested in Laura Mulvey’s engagement with the use of cinema, viewing in cinema, and the pleasures which may occur in viewing. Mulvey employs psychoanalysis as what she describes as a ‘political weapon’, in order to explore how cinema has been inevitably influenced by patriarchal society. As such, she explores how women in cinema are dominated by the male gaze, where the female character is always a subject to be controlled and is consistently presented as an ambiguous, castrated figure.

We examined Mulvey’s article in the context of the most recent Academy Awards ceremony and discussed the extent to which cinema serves as an exclusively male-centred medium, where narratives of women are shaped by the ideals of the male gaze. We considered the sexually charged representations of women in Tarantino movies, and the 2019 adaptation of Little Women, which engages with the male gaze but also attempts to subvert it through notions of female community, pleasure, and enjoyment. It was suggested that, perhaps, the male gaze is inescapable, as even narratives which explicitly do not include men (e.g. lesbian romantic narratives) often remain constructed in terms of the male gaze. In addition, cultural produce purportedly marketed for ‘the female gaze’, such as Magic Mike (2012) and PlayGirl magazine are not necessarily representing the female gaze accurately and often appeal more to gay men. As such, we ended the session with the question: Can the female gaze ever truly exist in a patriarchal society?

Final thoughts on our texts included fruitful discussions about the problematic limits of psychoanalysis in relation to intersectionality, and we identified the need to discuss gender and sexuality in terms of race in our next meeting.


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