POWS Conference 2015

There’s something incredibly energising and refreshing about the annual BPS Psychology of Women Section conference – I always seem to come home feeling on top of the world, like I can tackle whatever annoying bit of thesis work or admin bullshit I’ve been putting off for ages, you know? ANYWAY. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll have no doubt seen me spamming the life out of #powsconf during my time at lovely POWS 2015. Today I want to share some of the highlights of the conference, well, for me anyway – as ever, the programme was almost too good, making for some very difficult choices about which sessions to attend! First off though, here’s a lovely picture of the Leeds Beckett crew enjoying the glorious sunshine…

POWS Conference 2015 - Leeds Beckett Psychology

I may be a little biased, but I bloody love our psychology department. It was fantastic to see recent Leeds Beckett psychology graduate Sarah Gillborn speaking at POWS, with her paper An Analysis of the Discourses Surrounding British Women Politicians in the Run Up to the UK 2015 General Election. Sarah’s rigorous sampling of media texts and great eye for discourse analysis revealed a dismal picture where women in politics are consistently constructed in gendered ways, with value placed on their status as wife/mother/etc. rather than their political achievements.

I found the POWS postgraduate prizewinner this year, Emilie Epperlein, to be an incredibly engaging speaker. Emilie’s paper – Man vs Vagina – A Foucauldian Analysis of Men’s Discourses About the Perfect Vagina and Female Genital Grooming – provided insights into the complex ways that patriarchal beauty norms and self surveillance interact, along with some incredibly sensitive reflections on the research process itself. Although the men interviewed did not necessarily always desire a “Barbie” vagina, there was still potential for the vagina to be a site of control.

Right after lunch on Thursday I presented my paper – “The Only Girl”: Being a Woman in IT. Without going into too much detail (as I’m hoping to get some more information up here soon) I presented two small aspects of one of the discourses identified as part of my analysis of focus group/interview data – Gendering of the Outsider and Playing The Game. To give you the gist, women in IT are constantly tightroping, and the tightrope has barrier after barrier, and the tightrope is above a pit of fire and crocodiles. All wrapped up in notions of choice and sacrifice. It’s fraught. Absolutely fraught. But that’s not the whole picture, at all. Argh, why is this so complex… why did I not just put some stuff into SPSS and press a button… qualitative work is not the easy way out!

I also ran another meme subversion workshop – the same one I ran at #BVis15 which you can read about here – but in a shorter slot and with not quite so many people. I had an amazing time, I think the participants did too, and you can expect a post (and gallery!) coming soon, so watch this space! Here’s a sneak preview to tide you over…

POWS 2015 Meme Workshop

A stand out paper for me on the Friday morning was Lived Experiences of Voluntary Childlessness for Heterosexual and Non-Heterosexual Women: Negotiating Stigma, Identity and the Life-Course, delivered by Nikki Hayfield. I personally find the idea of being childfree (as opposed to childless) a really interesting topic, and it was fascinating to hear how other women speak about this – denying stigmatisation, having to be on the defensive constantly, having to justify themselves, constructing very specific versions of motherhood… Research magpie alert! Just let me finish this bloody thesis first…

Over the three days we had three incredibly powerful keynotes. On Wednesday Ingrid Palmary opened with Gender, sexuality and asylum in South Africa where ideas around performing the perfect victim really resonated – who can be a refugee? How do you perform that status in “acceptable” ways? Gender based violence was the key, all messed up with institutionalised discrimination in the shape of needless bureaucracy.

Thursday’s keynote was delivered by Chief Exec of Women’s Aid, Polly Neate. It was lovely to hear Polly speak with passion about the work Women’s Aid do, as a visible and vocal organisation pushing for change. Polly examined the problems of risk management in accessing service, and the tweet below from Jane Callaghan sums this up perfectly –

Our closing keynote this year came from Rebecca Lawthom with Women In, Through, Within Science: Walls, Ceilings, Communities and Colonies – amazing amazing amazing stuff, in spite of Rebecca being too #distractinglysexy for words. Slowing down is what’s needed – make time to think, to write, and to care for our selves and others in the “accelerated academy”. To be honest I’m still processing some of the take homes from this one, and think I will be for a while. Learning to say no sometimes is going to be a big one for me, and being okay with saying no.

POWS Conference 2015

As ever, we had three days of fantastic weather, amazing food, brilliant stand up (from the excellent Lara King) and heaps of socialising with some of the most wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. My very selfish personal highlight was getting a totally boss room in the main lodge, haha! I’m so easily pleased… Thanks so much to everyone who made POWS 2015 such an amazing conference – hope to see you next year!

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