Monday, 30 August 2010

Me and PE

Between the ages of 17 and 22 I didn't even own a pair of trainers. When I visited a friend and she had Kung Fu class, she invited me to join in, but I put a mental block on it and refused to see myself doing it. Aged about 22, I don't remember why but I bought a pair of trainers and some jogging bottoms and joined the gym at the local leisure centre. That lasted about three years, on and off, maybe once every two months on average over the whole period. Then I broke my finger and didn't get back into it once I recovered. I still have that same pair of trainers and they look pretty new. Since I stopped going to the gym I reckon I've worn them about ten times (for football or squash). I went jogging on Hove seafront once, for about 300 metres.

I'm not inactive - I've played tenpin bowling weekly since I was 11, with only about four years off in that time. I also went out dancing a lot during uni. And I never once got a car or bus to school, ever.

But that's not very active for someone in a Sports Science department. Most other people here either are or were competitive in the Athletics Union, trained to be a PE teacher, or they jog, swim, play football, etc. regularly. Not me, despite studying young people's constructions of status in physical activity. I think I keep guiding my research towards answering a few of my own questions about my own relationship with activity - why was/is it irrelevant to me?

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Thinking about "new femininities"

Supervisor and I are going to a conference next week to present work from the Geographies of the Body project for the first time. Something that has gone in the paper is a mention of "new femininities" which at first I didn't understand but I'm getting that it means sexy but girly, go getting but male-centred, heterosexed and still in high heels. The Cosmopolitan womanhood I suppose. Recently there was a post at The F Word responding to a piece in a rag by Agent Provocateur about female sexuality where basically they are still prescribing to women a male centred notion of sexual "freedom" but packaging it up as pro-woman. Now women are prudish if they don't wear AP's uncomfy bits of lace. Forgetting that feminism brought the ability for women to say yes to sex. And it reminded me of the new femininities that suggest empowerment but really offer male pleasure still.

New femininities are being discussed in our paper with regard to movie Bend It Like Beckham. I'm unsure whether I find BILB as bad as some people think; it is stereotypical but might offer some girls role models who experience similar tensions between family and football. And the Sikh Indian stereotypes are not the only ones; it is not only the Indian girl who is not considered normal. So I guess the film does attempt to offer a new femininity that is fixed and ideal - western, attractive, not too sexy, still in love with the guy, sporty but in a way that doesn't make your body look "wrong". I've ordered another couple of DVDs of women football films so I'll see what they turn out like.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Kelly Brook gives weak not-really-support to airbrushing warning labels

My feminist-in-training boyfriend just pointed out this disappointing video report from Newsbeat, interviewing Kelly Brook on her new advert for Reebok - a full body naked (except for trainers) billboard poster. The Newsbeat reporter asks Brook does she think the poster was airbrushed ("probably") and does she support warnings labels to show where a photo has been airbrushed ("maybe, if they were small").

A missed opportunity for Newsbeat to push for the warning labels and critique airbrushing and naked billboard posters. Oh, my mistake, that wouldn't be impartial enough for the BBC would it?! Yet they'll give a 2 minute platform for Brook to talk about herself, support photoshopping, and give some free advertising to Reebok

Monday, 26 July 2010

My bit on niqabs and fear of the hidden face

David Mitchell wrote an opinion piece in the Observer this weekend about why banning burqas is unliberal. Other people say that burqas (I think they mean niqabs because I'm never seen a burqa outside of TV pictures of Afghanistan) are horrible because they show women being forced to do things by men or religion. I say:

We don't know that it's not a choice for women. Here's two reasons for a start: maybe women who cover dislike being looked at sexually by men (of course, the real solution would be men stop ogling and sexualising women); maybe the hair is constructed as being as personal, not for viewing in public, just as many cultures have constructed breasts/bottoms/genitals as personal and not for public show. The construction of shame and the need to cover certain parts of the body is exactly that, a construction, and totally arbitrary. So there is no way that anyone can judge Muslim women for constructing a need to cover the hair, unless they believe that there is an imperative for everyone to go naked all the time.

Mitchell's piece is problematic, mainly for this bit:
"those women who feel pressured into wearing burqas by cultural or familial forces might become aware that they're living in a society where questioning those forces is welcomed."

Way to assume low/zero education and knowledge of Britain in a group of women! How infantilising! I think women know where they live!

And he rests a lot of his argument on what he sees as his right to take the piss out of women who cover. As someone who intensely hates being made fun of, that's not really something I can get behind.

Here's some articles which present a better take on it; however, as one of them says, why don't we stop blathering about clothes and start discussing war or poverty or education! And stop using women as a way to dress Islamophobia up as liberation.


Muslimah Media Watch on a potential ban in Quebec

MMW again

Is choice not the issue? Should there be a debate about head to toe covering in Europe, if it can stop wringing it's hands over cultural relativism? Mona Eltahawy says this

I think she's right in reminding that Islam is not monolithic and that full coverings might be coming from only very right wing cultural interpretations of the religion, but I don't think Western governments and commenters can presume to kn...ow how many Western Muslim women are choosing to cover and how many are forced. Actually a woman wearing a niqab walked past me where I'm sat in Loughborough Uni library just ten minutes ago; I don't know whether she wishes to dress like that or not and it's not really my business because although niqabs and burqas might be a symbol of misogyny, talking about women's clothing is not going to stop violence against women, or racism, which Eltahawy seems to suggest will stop if women don't cover (the bit where she mentions the group Ni Poutes Ni Soumises). If the French were really bothered about misogynistic violence and racism then they would address those problems directly, but instead they focus on a fear of the unknown (a hidden face and a different type of clothing) and say the face is central to Western identity and human interaction. I don't want to be culturally relativist, because British Muslims don't live under a government that demands covering, therefore we might question why a woman feels the need to wear a niqab in a country like Britain, we might ask why she feels it necessary, but either way clothing doesn't bring social justice.

Sometimes I feel like covering my face (bad skin) and lots of women might hide their identity behind a shovel full of make up, and maybe some men use beards to hide behind. These are body presentations issues too but no one talks about liberating women from make up regimes because I am suspicious that for a lot of people the issue is that Muslimahs who cover are rejecting Western beauty trends and the imperative to dress for men, to be viewed by men. And Westerners don't get that.

Really the way to stop misogyny and racism and violence and work for tolerance and social justice is to address the causes of intolerance, bring education and stop fear. It's like the way that anti-rape campaigns preach to potential victims "don't go out late on your own, don't wear slutty clothes, etc" - but you don't stop rape by changing women's behaviour, you stop rape by getting men to stop raping. Likewise, you stop Islamophobia, racism and misogyny against Muslim women not by changing the women's behaviour or dress, but by stopping racists from meting out frightened violence, educating against violence against women, and solving the poverty, unemployment and segregation that is behind a lot of hatred of the Other.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Musical aside

I just came across an old notebook from my undergrad years and it in was a set list from a time I DJed for Offbeat in the Coventry Colosseum (now Casbah); gonna try to post some of it up here. From the looks of things, I DJed this around mid 2001.

Slightly-forgotten indie-rockers Silversun with 'Julia'

Catatonia while they were still alright, with 'Sweet Catatonia'

They are still my favourite band, Bluetones - 'Solomon Bites the Worm'

Another band/album I don't listen to anymore, Blue 'Tracy Jacks'

REM, 'Harborcoat'

The lovely 'Kate from Ben Folds Five

Tha Manics and 'From Despair to Where'

This probably wouldn't be allowed to be released these days, it's Travis' 'U-16 Girls'

This video shows two Gorky's songs but I just played the first, Patio Song:

This isn't as good as I remembered it. Ultrasound, 'Kurt Russell'

From Green Day's first album, twenty years old now, 'Knowledge'

Gomez 'Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone'

Hefner - 'Hymn For the Cigarettes'

SFA - Chupacabras (I just learned today that this is named after an animal)

this was from a Levi's advert, the Sta-Prest ones I think. Lilys, 'Nanny in Manhattan'.


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Reflections on BSA Youth 2010

Oh dear, I neglected my blog again. Two weeks ago I attended the British Sociological Society's Youth 2010 conference in Guildford. I presented, for the first time, some findings from my data collection/production, and managed to speak ad lib about it fairly well I think.

There I met Max Mauro from Dublin Institute of Technology, creating a video ethnography of transnational identities of boys in football clubs. He reflected, with surprise and a little dismay or puzzlement, that he and I were the only two speakers working on sport or physical activity issues, which for a conference on youth might be considered strange; the overall theme of the week was 'Transitions, Identities and Cultures' and this had been predominantly interpreted as sub-cultures, music, clubs, although youth un(der)employment was also an issue in some talks. There were plenty of things about accessing identities and cultures which I found useful, anyway. It seems like a nice group to get involved in ... which leads me onto thinking about another issue:

As I search for articles for reading, I find lots of book chapters, reviews, etc. written by PhD students and I wonder whether the way you get into this type of writing is a case of who you know? Being asked to write a chapter in a book by an acquaintance? Aside from the central areas of my PhD, I wouldn't know what to write about, or I wouldn't know anything to write! But I keep thinking about it as something important. Maybe movies about women in sport, being something tying women's equality in sport, and visual cultures/cultural resources, together... Need to find something other than Bend It Like Beckham ...

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Second letter to my MP

After the disastrous election results and my constituency turned blue I thought I'd better have a bit more involvement and ask for things - MPs are supposed to work for us, after all. So I've been writing to the new MP. First letter's had no response, it was a request against the speculated reduction of abortion time limits that Cameron has indicated he would support. Although I now have a woman MP I worry she would also support a reduction in the time limit so I wrote to ask. But no reply yet.

Today I wrote again, asking her to support the Early Day Motion against the proposal to grant anonymity to rape defendants. Disgusting bit of injustice that would be. Let's see if I get a reply. 57 MPs have already signed the EDM. This is a good article by former solicitor general Vera Baird about it.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Roses grown in concrete

A couple of weeks' ago I was at the American Educational Research Association's Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado. I've not had a chance to say much about that yet, and I do have things to say. On the whole there were some inspiring, if not relevant to my research, talks that I went to, and I had a positive experience at the whole thing. The last talk I went to was Jeff Duncan-Andrade talking about hope through the metaphor of roses grown in concrete, taken from a Tupac song. It was very powerful and a great note to end the conference on - made me want to go more into social justice work. I found it on YouTube too - a longer version of the talk from a previous conference. Highly worth watching. Here it is.

PhD stalemate

I'm having this big problem in thinking lately that I'm not doing anything new or different with my research. It may have partly come from having droppped the reading and writing schedule in order to get on with data collection/production, and just now I picked up an article to read for the seminars I'm taking tomorrow (first teaching! Woo!) and it got me all worried that I'm repeating others' work - I certainly don't just want to repeat my supervisor's work. A quick lookn at the abstracts of many writers in the field (any field?) and you see that their own work is often similar, and they share many methods, theories and so on with lots of other writers around the world. But I think I need something different in order to get a PhD and I'm not doing that I fear. I also struggle with a rationale and the aim - that is, where I'm coming from, what I'm building on, the questions that are unanswered, and what I plan to do about them.

Maybe it's not as bad as I think but looking at my research questions and objectives they don't inspire me that much because they don't seem new, or they don't seem to be quite what I'm trying to put my finger on.

Or perhaps I should stop trying to read journal articles at 11pm. Because i can't articulate the thoughts I'm having that are coming out of the reading, about rationalising my own work...

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Reflections on “Forgotten Bodies”

To use the words of someone I met there, the Forgotten Bodies conference was affirming, to see that there are other postgrads working on feminist and gender studies research. Of course I knew they existed, but something about sitting down this morning made me remember it, like I'd forgotten while being in a department that centres on scientific and professional research.

I also remembered that I didn't need to preach to the converted about feminist theory, but by then I had already written my paper with a huge theories section, and I couldn't find easy bits to cut out. By leaving it in I then ran out of time for the methods section and rushed it, and that was probably the most interesting or different part of the paper. I had a few people tell me that my work was interesting and a good paper that gave a different perspective to the session. I had felt a bit like I wouldn't fit or that people wouldn't be interested because it was a session on “Fat” and the other two speakers were doing eating disorders and the place of fat bodies in society. Not sure I successfully answered the questions I got at the end either, with my rambling.

Other interesting presentations were Vikki Chalkin's work on queer femininity using an auto-ethnography, for she talked about putting the researcher at the heart of the research alongside the participants, for her embodiment and knowledge must be recognised in the production of research. She also talked about being marginalised in her Media department for being too creative and not doing proper research, and marginalised in Arts for being too theoretical, which I could sort of identify with because I feel like I am not doing the sort of work that my department expects, that they think of when they think pedagogy. I don't think I'm doing the sort of work I would think of if I thought of pedagogy! Results and recommendations and things like that. I'm quite cognizant of the wishes of the teachers at school at have a report that gives them some answers to the questions they have hinted at during my data collection, and I think of how I can do this report from my data. It occasionally influences the questions I ask of the students.

But, nice to see the world of gender studies and arts beyond my own department. Yesterday I went to a seminar by a social science student on learning in communities of practice, very interesting and slightly with relevance to my methods. And I was interviewed recently for a project on Third Wave feminists so it's a bit of a week for seeing other worlds, actually. I think my responses reflected on, as I have said here, the position I am in as an academic.

Visual ethnography part 2

A couple of weeks ago I did my first day in the city as a visual ethnographer trying to record something of the visual cultures that young people in the city might access and engage with. So far it's just experimental seeing what I come up with. The other idea was to bring my photos taken in the local communities to the interviews so that the young people can respond to them. I'm kicking myself however because I've only done one day in the city centre, and nothing in the more local areas or parks, although I had planned to. Just didn't get the chance, or the interviews have come up very fast and I didn't realise they are tomorrow. There's a chance I might do another round of interviews any way (partly because I have so many questions to ask the students and partly because a third of them have still not returned their cameras) so maybe I can do it then. Although it'll be still be ok to do the ethnography without the elicitation in the interviews, it'll just be my analysis and not the students' feedback.

The best thing about the first day in the city was going round the charity shops when I got bored of just walking round and round! They were pretty good for books. I picked up three books which all have a link to my research – or that's how I justified it, any way ;)

I also have a bit of the thing about only reading/buying books by women authors lately.

One is another novel by Anita Diamant, I just read her The Red Tent which was an amazing look at pre-monotheistic “Middle East” women's culture and society. Although women and men seemed to be separate then, women were largely left to themselves and ran their lives as they wished – childbirth, raising children, celebrating womanhood. It made the horrible ideas that monotheistic religions have had about women really stick out. I really enjoyed the book because it showed that women have not always been subordinate, passive objects in sexual relationships. In many ways the book hints that Judaism and Christianity were to blame for women's disappearance from public life. Anyway so the new book I got by Diamant is called The Last Days of Dogtown which I think has themes of women in “male” roles, this one set in 19th C America.

The next book I picked up is by Margaret Forster – I've never read any of her work before. This one is called The Memory Box and from the back it was quite clear that it portrays the women characters as having complex lives, not binaristic good/bad mother/whore stuff as happens so often. So that appealed to me, obviously.

The third novel was appealing not for strong women characters but for its seemingly links to things I have been reading/thinking about my own research – that cities shape the people who live there and people shape the cities where they live, it said on the back. It's called Marlene Dietrich Lived Here and looks at post-war Berlin trying to recover it's sense of self, and the people there trying to regain theirs. Quite topical while I am researching the importance of place to embodiment.

I also read a great historical novel recently called Company of Liars set during the plague. Slightly trashy but riveting, so I ordered the author's (Karen Maitland) other novel.

Time to get back to the proper reading...

Visual ethnography part 1

Recently I began the visual ethnography part of my data collection, where I become a participant observer of some of the visual cultures accessed by the young people I am working with in school. Based on what they tell me of the places and activities they engage in, I am developing or enhancing the photo and image collection I have asked the young people to do, by also taking and collecting some of my own images that I find in the areas of Leicester or media/online visual cultures that the young people use. Partly this was a practical issue based on previous experiences of students not bringing back many photos, so a sort of insurance policy in the event of having nothing to work with, but I can't just put that in my methodology so I'm trying to think of the best way to explain why I am also taking photos – after all, I am not a 14 year old, nor a resident of the city, so why would the ways that I view and experience the city be important?

Sarah Pink in her Doing Sensory Ethnography argues that ethnographers can use the senses as a way to access the sensory experiences and perceptions of participants in a field, so that we can begin to imagine some of the ways in which senses provide meanings and experiences for the participants. Or something. Also, given that photo elicitation will be heavily used in the second interviews, any photos I bring still depend on the responses of the young people to them. This means too that I am not sure whether I need to get all my ethnography done before the second interviews, or whether I can continue afterwards, despite getting no further responses from young people. If so, I have this week and maybe two days next week in which to get it all done, visiting a few different places in Leicester with my camera and notebook.

Any way, so the first day of ethnography. I went round two of the major shopping areas in the city. The big thing that struck me was a sense of feeling drab in my own clothes and needing to buy new things! I suppose that is the point of shops, to make you want to buy. But living in a little village where I rarely visit malls like this, I don't often get that feeling. I wonder whether young people who maybe got to town frequently with their friends also experience the physical culture of the shopping mall in the same way. This is only partly relevant to my study but I think it's important to know whether young people feel pressures on their bodies and appearances, and this might have an impact on the way they engage with PE and physical activity. How to tap into that in interviews, might be tricky. Need some advice on that.

Recently at the Forgotten Bodies conference in Exeter I asked how Fat Studies etc. can offer alternative ways of valuing bodies in PE and other school physical cultures? What can PE learn from advocates of non-normative bodies in order to offer more empowering and inclusive experiences and learning environments? ...

Monday, 15 March 2010

Old problem suddenly news...

Good post here from the new Ms. Blog about a news report claiming to have discovered the new issue of groping.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Working out a PhD problem

Now, I know that my supervisor Alan loves to wind me up and challenge everything I write* (to make me write better or take fewer things for granted I hope?). I wrote a short chapter last week about the perceived low value in women's or girl's bodies from a sport point of view (where a masculine, muscular, strong body is valorised) and that this can impact on girls' participation and embodiment in PE and school sport. Alan replied that we only need to look around campus here at uni to see that this is not the case.

That may be, here at a university where sport is central and normal and women have access and opportunity...but on the same level as men? Are women told here that they are equal and on a par with male athletes? Not sure about that. In any case it's difficult to extrapolate this situation to other places, as all the sportswomen come to this university anyway.

But something I'm thinking about, as I should address it, or have a good argument against it, for this is what I'm basing a large part of my rationale on!

* He also said tenpin bowling is not a sport. I didn't answer, as I've been answering that type of comment for years.
I'm not usually into issues of access and opportunity in elite sports for women, but with the Winter Olympics on at the moment I heard about a campaign to get women's ski jumping into the 2014 games, as it is not yet allowed. There's a little video about it here:

Not sure if it's one of those IOC things where they say a sport is too dangerous for women to do, but if so, that's getting tiring in this age. Time magazine's article on the matter says "In 1991, the IOC announced that all future Olympic sports must be open to both genders, but the rule didn't apply to sports that already existed — and as one of the 16 original events in the inaugural 1924 Winter Games, ski jumping was definitely one of them."

Hmm. The article goes on to say that the IOC wants all sports in the Olympics to meet some requirements like having it's own world championships and so on, and assessed women's ski jumping in 2006 when it might not have met the requirements, and the games can only accomodate so many athletes, and the Vancouver schedule was sorted ages ago, and blah blah blah. Sounds like a cop-out to me. But there's more: someone at the IOC says:

The sport "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."

WTF?! I need no response to this surely.

While there are clearly lots of women who ski jump (good for them), to continue to explicitly or implicitly discrimate against the sport will be a hindrance to more women becoming interested, the sport will remain constructed as for men only and will not be taken seriously, and it goes round and round. But what do we expect from the IOC, or any institutionalised corporate sport machine.