Symposium Report: Missing Women Study Day

Symposium Report: Missing Women Study Day

24th May 2017, University of Southampton

by Sarah Smyth

In this blog, Sarah Smyth reflects back on a truly interdisciplinary conversation and examines how it captured forms of ‘missing women’ across institutions and cultures.

When two of my PhD colleagues, Mariana Thomas and Sophie Cavey, and I sent out our call for papers for a study day titled ‘Missing Women’, we had no idea of the overwhelming response we would receive. From a broad range of disciplines, from universities beyond the UK, and from academics either beginning their career or well-established, the idea of the “missing woman” resonated. We had over sixty abstracts for what was supposed to be a half-day conference, with people keen to tell us about the exciting, provocative, and diverse work they are doing to uncover, or recover, the missing women in their field. Our anger at women’s continued marginalisation was legitimised. With this number of academics raging with us, we knew our study day would prove a timely, important and necessary intervention into conventional discourses that continue to position women as “missing”.

Photo 1:

Our poster for the Missing Women study day

The idea for our study day was to provide an interdisciplinary conference at the University of Southampton, which facilitated the discussion of women whose creative or historical contributions have been unjustly forgotten or overlooked. Exclusion, neglect, or omission from analysis has been the undue fate for many women throughout history. Their contributions and representations have all too often been dismissed or forgotten, resulting in the absence of female voices.

Our half-day conference grew to a full day. We successfully secured more money from funding bodies including the Graduate School for Humanities and the Centre for Modern and Contemporary Writing both at the University of Southampton. We built a programme of nine speakers, ending with a special roundtable to celebrate the work of Professor Clare Hanson from the English department at the University of Southampton. Disciplinary diversity was immediately evident, with speakers from the departments of Philosophy, Film, History, Middle Eastern Studies, and English across a range of academic institutions. Thisensured a variety of methodologies – archival work, data collection, close-textual analysis, theory – and a wide time-period, from early writing on ʿĀ’isha, wife of the Prophet Muhammad, to contemporary cinema. We had intended our programme also be inclusive and diverse in a much wider sense. In our call for papers, we explicitly encouraged contributions on women of colour, transwomen, queer women, and disabled women, and targeted specific institutions and groups where this research is being done. However, the abstracts we received were overwhelming about white, cis-gender, straight, able-bodied women. During our introduction to the day, then, we acknowledged the missing women from ‘Missing Women’: the women whose work is still marginalised or neglected, or whose work is more difficult to find in the academy.

Photo 2

Jennifer Scott delivering her paper, ‘The Princess and the Press: The Embodied and Disembodied Personalities of Marie Corelli’

The day proved to be a huge success. We had a large number of people attend the conference, and this generated an ongoing and dynamic conversation throughout the day. People particularly noted how warm and inclusive the atmosphere was, something we were heartened to hear since we wanted everyone to feel welcome and valued in the space. The first panel on the theme ‘performing women’ led to discussions over how womanhood is “performed” inside and outside texts. Sofia Rehman’s paper on ʿĀ’isha and Jennifer Scott’s paper on Victorian novelist Marie Corelli revealed contrasting ways in which women have control or autonomy over the performative aspects of their womanhood or femininity. While Sofia demonstrated how ʿĀ’isha’s voice becomes muted as she took positions in opposition to other, invariably male, companions of the Prophet, while Jennifer examined studio photographs of Corelli to argue that these formed spectral sequels to her own works, which countered the press’ tendency to control women’s bodies. Panel Two considered the different ways women can be subversive. Islam El-Naggar drew out how Radwa Ashour’s Granada contained a complicated and nuanced portrayal of the feminist traces in Andalusian Muslim culture. Jenni Råback considered the ways in which we “frame” Vanessa Bell who so often gets eclipsed by her more famous sister, Virginia Woolf. A clear pattern emerged, by which “subversive” elements were theorised through form and abstraction. Panel Three, titled ‘Excavating Women’, most explicitly engaged in the finding, recovery and repositioning of women in various institutional, cultural and historical contexts.

Photo 3

A key discovery by Hollie Price in the archives of the Ministry of Information’s Film Division is this letter that reads: “To maintain the required differentiation between men’s and women’s salaries is one of the Treasuries most cherished principles.”

Hollie Price considered the position of women in the wartime propaganda work in the Ministry of Information Films Division. Shelley Cobb, meanwhile, discussed her project Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary Film Culture in the UK. Both papers led to a productive discussion about women’s complicated relationship with the institutions and material when engaged in archival research. Panel Four focused on the more broader term, ‘Representing Women’. Jade French considered the way in which the older woman was marginalised in the early twentieth century due to the emergence of the figures such as ‘The Flapper’. George Mind suggested that Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition signals a new dialectic between discourses of feminism, realism and subjectivity. Finally, Sarah Osmond Smith looked at research into time in the eighteenth century, arguing   that a focus on technological, cultural, artistic, social and material advances fails to take account of gendered experiences of time. Throughout the day, the idea of how necessarily repetitive and slow, even tedious, this research can be, otherwise women will continue to be “missing” within many academic fields.

Photo 4

Sarah Osmond Smith delivering her paper, ‘Beyond the Huygens Clock-Face: Missing “Spare” Female Hours in the Eighteenth Century’

Our day finished with a roundtable dedicated to Clare Hanson and a wine reception. Here, Clare reflected on the day, noting the exciting and important work being done, and linked it to her own work, particularly her work to recover Katherine Mansfield as a key literary figure. Turning to the future of feminist academic work, perhaps most profoundly, Clare told us the key way to continue to produce feminist research and to ride the waves of feminism as it goes in and out of fashion in wider culture was through intergenerational connections. By explicitly connecting to our feminist foremothers and our feminist daughters, we can safeguard against women going “missing”, ensuring their/our contributions are fully recognised, guaranteeing their/our voices are always heard, and making certain that their/our work will have a lasting impact for many generations to come.

Sarah Smyth is a PhD candidate at the University of Southampton. Her PhD is part of the project, Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary Film Culture in the UK (funded by the AHRC), and examines the ways in which a number of women filmmakers in contemporary Britain conceptualise and represent space. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahsmyth91.


Trailblazing Women Symposium


Trailblazing Women On and Off Screen

A One Day Symposium Blending Theory and Practice

Department of Creative Professions and Digital Arts (CPDA), University of Greenwich

Thursday 29th June 2017

The Creative Professions and Digital Arts Department at the University of Greenwich, in collaboration with the Women’s Film and Television History Network UK/Ireland, are proud to host a one-day symposium blending theory and practice to explore the themes of trailblazing women on and off screen, past and present. 

The event is aimed at both academic researchers and film and television practitioners. The day will comprise a blend of screenings, keynote talks and panels, including representatives from the BFI, Raising Films, Calling the Shots (AHRC-funded research project), Women’s Film and Television History Network and Women Over 50 Film Festival.  This promises to be a unique day to explore the challenges and opportunities encountered in contemporary film and television culture.  

The event is free and places can be reserved through Eventbrite, where further details (including confirmed speakers) can currently be found here.

You can find the full PDF advertising the event here.

Please direct any queries to

CfP: Mothers of Invention: Parenting and/as Filmmaking Practice


In 1983, E. Ann Kaplan famously called second-wave feminist film culture a movement created by daughters “unwittingly…repeat[ing] the patriarchal omission of the Mother.” By way of what Charlotte Brunsdon has called disidentification, several scholars and practitioners associated with more recent varieties of film feminism, from its third wave to its “post” incarnation, have, unwittingly or not, followed suit. Swimming against this tide, Mothers of Invention invites contributors to help construct a feminist genealogy of a different sort, one that foregrounds the relationship between acts of production on the one hand and those associated with reproductive and caring labour on the other. More specifically, it seeks to build on the ground-breaking industry research already underway at the Raising Films campaign in the UK and Moms in Film in the US in order to create an interdisciplinary edited collection that considers the role that parenting, as both a theme and a diversified practice, plays in film and media cultures.

Mothers of Invention welcomes essays about fatherhood and film and media, but the balance of the volume will be weighted toward mothers and female carers, particularly those from communities that have been historically under-represented, marginalised, and/or excluded from film and moving image practice. As much as the film and media industries, especially at the commercial end, present a challenge for all people with caring responsibilities, those who identify as female remain disproportionately responsible for caring and domestic labour. It is precisely the nature of this challenge – as well as the acts of creative invention and innovative resistance it has inspired – that are of interest to this volume. Indeed, works as diverse as Mary Kelly’s Post Partum Document (1973-79), Agnès Varda’s Daguerréotypes (1976), Arnait Video’s Before Tomorrow (2008), and Sophie Hyde’s 52 Tuesdays (2013) incorporate parenting and caring labour into both their narrative content and their artistic practice and thereby contribute to a transnational and transgenerational body of work has yet to be considered through the lens of feminist parenting studies.

We invite contributions on historical and contemporary global moving image practices, across the spectrum from industrial to artisanal and concerning all key production roles. We are open to a wide range of approaches, from close readings of film and media objects to industrial analyses to studies of circulation and spectatorship, and we welcome work from a variety of disciplines, including the following: film, television, and/or media studies; cultural and creative industries; women and gender studies; moving image practice-based research; media anthropology; and cultural studies. Finally, following Lisa Baraitser’s definitional essay ‘Mothers Who Make Things Public’ (2009), we use the term mother to “denote anyone who both identifies as female and performs primary maternal work, with a ‘child’ being understood as the other whom such a ‘mother’ elects, names and claims as her child,” and carer to denote anyone who performs primary physical and emotional work unremunerated for a partner, parent, sibling, other family member, or friend.

Please submit a 500-word proposal and brief biographical note to and by 1 August 2017.

We anticipate that finished essays will be approximately 6000 words in length, including notes, and we plan to send out acceptances of proposals by the end of September 2017.

Feel free to email us prior to the deadline with any questions.

Call for Contributions: Encyclopaedia of Gender, Media and Communication

Encyclopaedia of Gender, Media and Communication


A small team of us are working with Wiley Blackwell to develop the first ever Encyclopaedia of Gender, Media and Communication which constitutes the latest project in the ICA series of Sub-disciplinary Encyclopaedias of Communication. We hope you agree that this will be an exciting and important contribution to the field. While there are several handbooks and edited collections which focus on many of the gendered aspects of media, culture and communication, an encyclopaedia which maps the broader landscape is currently missing: our project intends to remedy that lack. The project is obviously ambitious and we will not be able to please everyone or include everything, but we have identified around 250 potential index entries and would be pleased if you would take a look and see if there is a topic about which you would like to write. We are keen that the encyclopaedia is as inclusive and broad-based as possible and we are therefore seeking a mix of established and less experienced contributors, from all parts of the global research community.

The topic list is not exhaustive and if you think there is a significant omission about which you like to write, then please let us know your suggestion. You will also see that there are a few entries where we are actively seeking suggestions for entries on specific people (eg filmmakers and political leaders), particular films and media representations in particular regions – all indicated on the attached list in *green font*. As an editorial team, with our various experiences of researching and writing on aspects of the gender-media relationship, we are mindful of issues such as intersectionality, fluid sexual identities and stereotypes. You will see that in the list, we continue to use certain terms (eg women, men, disability, age, race, LGBTQ, trans) in order to mark out the parameters for the topics to be discussed and in this way, hope to make the /Encyclopaedia/ a useful and useable resource. Where appropriate, we encourage you to develop a critical approach to the use of these labels in the entries which (we hope!) you will write. The /Encyclopaedia/ is focused on gender (albeit itself a rather contested category) so all contributions must engage with this central theme, either privileging one ‘identity’ category or else adopting a comparative or intersectional approach.

If you are interested in accessing the headword list, please click here <>.

If the broad ambitions of the project sound appealing, please read on.

*Timescale* – we expect the three-volume /Encyclopaedia/ to be published in 2019 so working backwards, we would expect to receive first drafts of entries in autumn 2018 for shorter entries and spring 2019 for longer ones.

*Style* – an encyclopaedic entry is a *summary* of the research on a particular topic and is thus more a literature review than an opportunity to talk about an original piece of research although you can obviously do this in a modest way.

*Length *– entries will be of different lengths, ranging from long overview essays of around 10,000 words down to smaller entries of around 2000 words. We have identified a suggested length for each entry in the topic list but if you would like to write more or less, then please suggest an alternative length.

*Payment* – contributors will be paid in books and online access to the /Encyclopaedia/ for a specified length of time, currently 24 months from publication and for as long thereafter as you are prepared to provide updates: for long essays (10,000 words) = $350 worth of Wiley-Blackwell books; mid-length essays (4,000 – 8,000 words) = $250; short essays (2,000 – 4,000 words) = $150; and very short essays (1,500 – 2,000 words) = $100.

*Next steps* – if you are interested in writing an entry, please provide: 1) a <200-word synopsis of what you intend to cover, key authors, themes, etc. and   2) a <150-word biographical statement to include current affiliation and your job title.  We anticipate that a number of topics will attract multiple expressions of interest and in such cases, we will make decisions taking account of the overall balance of contributors in order to have the most diverse group of scholars. If that happens, we may suggest an alternative but related topic to you.

*Deadline* – please send your synopsis and biog by 29^th May 2017, to the Associate Editor identified with the sub-section of the /Encyclopaedia/ in which you potential topic appears. We will aim to get back to you by 1^st August 2017.

Thanks very much for getting to the end of this email and we hope to hear from you soon.

Kind regards

The Editorial Team//Encyclopaedia for Gender, Culture and Communication/

Karen Ross (Editor)

Ingrid Bachmann (Associate Editor)

Valentina Cardo (Associate Editor)

Sujata Moorti (Associate Editor)

Marco Scarcelli (Associate Editor)

Feminist Musings: How to Like Ripper Street

In another of our republications from CST Online, Elke Weissmann considers Ripper Street.  Whilst that series is no longer on our screens, despite a brief revival on Amazon Prime, Elke offers us a layered reading which identifies a particular kind of ‘contradiction’ experienced by modern spectatorship in the face of politically-dissonant material: ‘…by engaging with the exact opposite, all that happens is that our deep-seated beliefs find further ammunition, which is highly pleasurable precisely because it stirs our emotion.’

Elke Weissmann’s contribution was first published with CST Online 20th December 2013. Many thanks to Kim Akass, editor, and the individual contributors, for giving permission for their articles to appear here. These and other articles can be accessed in CST’s archive on their current website: here.

Feminist Musings: How to Like Ripper Street

By Elke Weissmann

There is something bizarrely compelling about watching something that you’ve been told you will disagree with. This is how I encountered Ripper Street which ended this week, apparently axed as a result of disappointing viewing figures when scheduled against the dependable I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here. From the very beginning, everything about Ripper Street signalled that feminists should dislike it: there is the name, of course. Drawing on the long mythology of the ‘Ripper’, the series reminds us of popular culture’s tendency to sexualise the murder of women. And then there is the opening scene: a group of Victorian Ripper tourists are led through the grimy streets of East London, only to encounter their own female body, displayed, as so often, in death for the inquisitive gaze of the viewer and detective. And obviously there is the whole pre-publicity which drew attention to the fact that this was a series about blokes fighting crime in a lawless London full of prostitutes… again.


Again. That’s perhaps the word that best describes my initial reaction to the series. Another series full of sexualised violence against women. Another series that casts women primarily in the roles of prostitutes and housewives. And another series that returns men into their ‘rightful’ place as patriarchal law makers.

So considering all of this, how come I mourn its end (on the BBC for now, there might be another series commissioned by Love Film)? This question has become quite an obsession and returns me to the beginning: there is something compelling about encountering that which superficially at least goes against all your deep-seated beliefs. Hence why there are regular Tory posters on The Guardian webpages, and left-leaning audiences reading The Daily Mail. At first sight this seems to go against ideas of the ‘echo chambers’  that supposedly structure our online consumption. However, by engaging with the exact opposite, all that happens is that our deep-seated beliefs find further ammunition, which is highly pleasurable precisely because it stirs our emotion. It is this moment of emotional charge that the TV industries are increasingly exploiting in order to attract attention in this media-cluttered world.

This is of course in no way a new trend. HBO has developed its brand identity around offering material that differentiates it from network material, as Cathy Johnson argues. Much of this material deliberately draws on the controversial that would get the American Right up into arms. As a result, I nearly missed Deadwood (HBO, 2004-2006), thinking it was just another TV drama that played on controversy in order to attract a particular clientele. Deadwood might use swearwords rather liberally, but underneath it is a deeply caring drama that returns me to difficult questions of ethics and morals. Much of these questions are proposed with rather conservative answers, but some are left more open and ambiguous. Such a strange mixture of offensive veneer, morally problematic and politically ambiguous deep structure also underlies Ripper Street.

As John Ellis points outRipper Street re-imagines our Victorian past through the lens of steampunk. It celebrates and is fascinated by Victorian ideas of progress as offered by science and at the same time unsure about the cultural and social implications of it. In the first ever episode, the series celebrates the invention of film whilst at the same time condemning the snuff genre that comes with its invention. As so often in audiovisual media, whilst condemning ‘snuff’ it shows the making of it in all its gruesome detail, and by doing so contributes to the continued sexualisation of women’s suffering.

rippper street
But, as already indicated, Ripper Street is more complex than that. The sexualisation of violence against women is part of its offensive veneer. That doesn’t make it better, but it does complicate my relationship to it. Underneath this veneer, it actually critiques this – to quote Ellis again – not entirely Victorian culture in which women’s lives remain regulated by men, where women increasingly understand that they remain ‘men’s property’. A particularly insightful episode is ‘Become Man’ (season 2, episode 3) in which Susan, Jackson’s brothel-owning wife, is abducted by a group of radical Match Girls who try to get compensation for the horrible exploitation and suffering they had encountered. Susan soon starts to sympathise with them, and in particular their leader, and ends up realising that, rather than engaging in any form of power by being her own business woman, she colludes with and extends the power of men.

In a scene, shot beautifully as a love scene between the two women, Susan sows up one of the woman’s scars, while they talk about what it means to be a woman. The relationship is tender, and the camera frames the two women in constant relationship, close-up, registering every expression of emotion. It is an incredibly intimate scene in which both women confess to their vulnerabilities and their ultimate powerlessness. It invites the viewer in, not as the traditional voyeur who watches from the distance, unobserved, while fetishising the women’s bodies, but as someone close to these women, sharing in their experience. The closeness between the women is here clearly matched with a viewing position that similarly places the spectator in a position of sharing and confession. Rather than this being a maternal position, it is a one closer to that of a friend or indeed closer to that of the sympathetic witnesses of a second-wave consciousness raising group. Such a position clearly undermines the more traditional representations of women in the role of prostitute and feeds into the moral and political ambiguity of the series.

It is scenes like this that manage to transcend the blokey veneer and remind us of the other side; the experience of women. Such a scene also manages to critique the post-feminist discourses that claim women can gain empowerment through sex, and hence speak to feminist concerns. And yet, Ripper Street also displays the women’s bodies as sexually pleasurable. But it does so at the same time as reminding us of the conditions that make these images possible. And so, the pleasure of watching something that we are told is supposed to go against our deep-seated beliefs becomes the pleasure of hearing our echo yet again.

Elke Weissmann is Reader in Film and Television at Edge Hill University. Her books includeTransnational Television Drama (Palgrave) and the edited collection Renewing Feminisms (I.B.Tauris) with Helen Thornham. She is vice-chair of the ECREA TV Studies Section and sits on the board of editors for Critical Studies in Television. She migrated to the UK in 2002 after realising that German television was as bad as she remembered