Post-conference life

After the drive to Middlesborough on Wednesday, I felt like my body was still humming to the tone of my car for most of Thursday. It’s amazing how a long drive can leave you like that; sort of buzzing like your car’s engine for 24 hours afterwards…

…and the drive from my brother’s place in Middlesborough to Newcastle was spectacular. All pylons and vast swathes of hilly green land, and power-stations and giant farms and wide, long roads. Newcastle itself is really impressive with its grand architecture, ascending ceilings and enormous steel bridges. I vaguely remember being about ten years old and coming over the Tyne bridge on a coach to stay with my Godmother. I was listening to ‘Chariots of fire’ by Vangelis on my walkman and was slightly obsessed with it, as a soundtrack… And even further back somewhere in the farthest reaches of my mind I remember Newcastle – the smell and shape of the place – from when I lived there until I was four.

In Newcastle on Thursday I got to meet the lovely Wazz who is even better in real life than in her spectacular blog >>http://needled.wordpress.com<< We got to drink large pots of tea in the Side Cafe and then went on some various errands around town. Our search for an elusive printing shop paid off when we eventually found it and its impecceable sales assistant, Gordon. If you are ever in Newcastle and need a printing job done, go to Alpha Printing near the station. It is a marvellous establishment. Gordon gave me two courtesy calls, fantastic directions to the nearby post-office and a fully comprehensive breakdown of my receipt. The posters I got printed for the Fantastical Reality Radio Show got white borders in the end, on the basis of his carefully worded and earnest recommendation of this design feature. I will have to send him a photocopier fridge-magnet in response to his excellent skills. I hope they pay him well. On Friday I gave my paper at an incredibly well organised and informative conference, entitled ‘A woman’s place.‘ The women who had organised the event – Ellen Turner, Lucy Gallagher and Emma Short – did a fantastic job of running the whole thing as well as presenting three really interesting papers concerning ‘a woman’s place’ in various works of fiction. I got the sense the department at Newcastle is a very thriving place. I especially enjoyed Lucy Gallagher’s clear and erudite exploration of Pat Barker’s Union Street and may have to read the book now. I also rubbed my grubby little paws with Messy Tuesdays glee when I learned that her PhD deals with Mess as one of its title concerns and she was very interested to learn of Messy Tuesdays. Karen Stockham gave a very interesting talk about Les Cordees and the women’s mountaineering movement which contrasted starkly and brilliantly with Dr Rachel Carroll’s excellent keynote address concerning Todd Haynes’ ‘SAFE.’ Having watched SAFE from a disability point of view, I had found it to be an immensely troubling representation of disabled experience… the feminist reading of the film that Carroll offered, however, gave the film a new dimension for me and I really enjoyed her convincing discussion of the film’s concerns and intentions. I especially enjoyed how she demonstrated – using the slides – how the domestic space in the film seems to always crowd, frame and confine the main protaganist – rather than protect her. I also discovered that Dr Rachel Carroll is another major fan of Toni Morrison’s literature so we found a lot of time over dinner to talk about that and our shared dissappointment about the SATC movie.

I also enjoyed the paper given by Claudia Clare concerning ‘shattered,’ a work she made exploring the idea of the hymen and virginity culture using clay pots.

Perhaps the paper that had the greatest impact on me, though, was Lena Ganesh’s utterly compelling and articulate discussion of women’s social mobility in India. Based on SEWA’s video documentation and research figures, Ganesh put together a brilliant argument for how, within Indian culture, women are socioeconomically restrained by the spatial divisions within the main cities and by the cultural concept of public space as being ‘Male’ and private space as being ‘Female.’ She talked about how economically restructuring India is not enough in and of itself as a strategy for tackling poverty, but that the way space is gendered must also be looked at. Her major argument was that the fear of sexual harrassment in the streets of India prevents women from being able to freely enjoy the physical mobility they need in order to work.

There was quite an extraordinary feeling for me in attending this conference and finding myself in a whole room of people who also study feminist theory; it was great to contextualiase my ideas amongst the ideas of contemporaries and to learn about what other people in this field are thinking about and writing about at the moment. There was also something really brilliant about the interdisciplinary aspect of the conference; the scope was very wide and it was great to see so many researchers, from so many different areas of interest, bringing their ideas to one event.

My own paper seemed to go well; several people said how much they enjoyed it and I certainly found it to be very helpfup to write about and formalise some of my own thoughts. The knitted speakers got a lot more love at the feminist conference than they did at my college presentation, which made me think quite a lot about the issue of audience…

…It was a very rich experience for me and I would like to go to many more conferences in the future, as it seems like an excellent way of meeting brilliant people and learning tonnes about what you’re trying to study.

Now all I have to do is make a radio show in time for Friday.

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