Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies

Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies
School of Sociology and Social Policy
Social Sciences Building
Leeds, LS2 9JT

Tel: +44 (0) 113 343 3770
Fax: +44 (0) 113 343 4415

Seminar: Challenging Academic Debates: Situating Decolonial Science, Art and Faith in the Syllabus

Join us in this event where we will be “Challenging Academic Debates: Situating Decolonial Science, Art and Faith in the Syllabus”, in celebration of the Black History Month.

25th and 26th October 2018
School of Sociology and Social Policy – Room 12.21-25
University of Leeds – LS2 9JT

Keynotes: Dr. Susanne Scafe and Professor Kehinde Andrews
Sessions will involve workshops, cunt-clown presentation, music, dance, Poetry and PGRs presenting their researches.

Covering topics on:

  • Why is my Curriculum White? and Intersectionality in Social Sciences Studies
  • Implications of Racism in Health Care and Pharmacy Industry
  • Freedom of faith among communities of minority ethnicities
  • Migration and the Hostile Environment in the UK

Register here:


This entry was posted in Events, News.

Vagina dialogues: theorizing the ‘designer vagina’ – new book chapter by Ruth Holliday

Professor Ruth Holliday has been writing about ‘designer vagina’s. Her chapter ‘Vagina dialogues: theorizing the “designer vagina”‘ is published in Body, Migration, Re/constructive Surgeries: Making the Gendered Body in a Globalized World (Routledge, edited by Gabriele Griffin, Malin Jordal):

Accounts of the ‘designer vagina’ have frequently linked it to ‘traditional’ practices of FGM (or, less pejoratively, FGC), said to reduce women’s sexual pleasure. Many writers claim that cuts to the vagina are particularly sinister since they are made to such an intimate and private part of the body. However, the vagina is perhaps the bodily part most likely to be cut or stitched because of childbirth. And given the technologies available to alter its appearance, from waxing to labiaplasty, we must also ask ourselves how ‘private’ the vagina now is. Feminists have largely correlated such practices negatively with the increasing circulation of pornography, neoliberalism, post-feminism, consumerism and the ‘re-entrenchment’ of sexism (Gill and Donaghue, 2013), though not with what we might call ‘vaginal diversity’ on body-positive websites. Certainly these are mechanisms of visibilization. However, is the ‘neoliberal vagina’ simply bad for women? Or are there continuities and disjunctures between feminism and neoliberalism that paint a more complex picture of the ‘designer vagina’? Here I argue that within the context of the visible vagina, the privileging of patient autonomy, and the moral imperative to find happiness by ‘doing something’ work to reconfigure the vagina as alterable in the pursuit of pleasure.

This entry was posted in News.

Postgraduate conference and workshop: After #metoo: where next?

On Monday 23rd July 2018, CIGS and FLAG will be hosting a conference and workshop exploring academic and practitioner responses to the #metoo campaign.

We welcome presenters and attendees from across disciplines as well as from the social sector. The event is open to PhD students, Masters students and practitioners.

Call for Papers

The #metoo campaign has facilitated the emergence of a renewed public narrative around violence against women and girls (VAWG), which has led to the widespread public disclosure of women’s experiences of a sexual harassment and abuse. Will this make any tangible or lasting difference to women and girls’ experience of violence (in all its forms)? Does public discourse reflect the experiences of women who are more marginalised or less privileged, particularly given that the campaign’s founder, Tarana Burke, has largely been unacknowledged and obscured in this debate?
The UK government’s current VAWG strategy (2016-2020) outlines the strategic aim of “making VAWG everyone’s business”, with specific reference to the engagement of “men, boys and bystanders” to challenge VAWG and “further social change” (Home Office, 2016). Policies implemented under welfare reform are however severely at odds with this and the stories we tell about women’s experiences remain stubbornly focused on victim-survivors rather than perpetrators. To what extent can policy and dominant discourse be reworked so that violence against women is genuinely regarded as a social problem for which there is a shared, collective responsibility to address?

Building upon the discussions from the first Violence Symposium event on May 8th, and set against this backdrop, we are looking for submissions across the following themes, and beyond:

  • Past and present celebrity narratives of domestic and/or sexual violence and harassment (Saville, Weinstein, Spacey etc.)
  • Victim-survivor resilience and resourcefulness
  • Acts of victim-survivor public self-disclosure
  • Public narratives and responses around domestic/sexual violence and harassment
  • Notions of authentic ‘victimhood’; considering “othered” women’s experiences of violence such as women engaged in sex work, women with substance use issues and trans women.
  • LBGTQ+ victim-survivors’ experiences of domestic and sexual violence
  • Post-colonial and racialized narratives of abuse and violence in the current climate
  • Class and notions of (women’s) respectability
  • Trauma, resilience and resistance at different stages of the life-course including, childhood experiences and older women’s experiences of trauma and domestic/sexual abuse
  • Feminist thought and political activism in relation to the #metoo campaign
  • Reflections on the government’s current VAWG strategy
  • Policy responses in the context of austerity and welfare reform measures
  • Power and privilege in institutional settings, including higher education environments
  • Bystander initiatives and approaches to combat domestic and sexual violence on campus
  • Use of technology and social media as a tool for bringing about ‘real’ social change (?)
  • Exploring counter narratives to the #metoo campaign
  • Men speaking up against men’s violence towards women; notions of ‘allyship’ and coalition building
  • Domestic and sexual violence and abuse prevention approaches

This is not an exhaustive list and submissions are not limited to the above. Papers on other issues related to these broad themes are welcome. We welcome submissions from PhD students, Masters students and practitioners with relevant research or work experience. Please send 250 word abstract submissions to Jessica Wild j.l.wild@leeds.ac.uk and Mary Robson ss09memr@leeds.ac.uk by Friday 15th June 2018. If you have any queries or concerns please feel free to contact us. Notification of acceptance will be sent out by Friday 22nd June 2018.

For tickets, please go to the Eventbrite page: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/after-metoo-where-next-tickets-46188906262.

This entry was posted in Conferences, Events, News.

Caring for the clone, kinship and control

by Greg Hollin


On the 24th of January 2018, it was widely reported that two female, crab-eating macaques (Macaca fascicularis) named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua had become the first primates born to cloning technologies like those used to create Dolly the Sheep. Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are the first of many planned clones which will, in the future, have their genes edited so that their behaviour more closely matches humans with Parkinson’s disease who they are intended model. There is so much to be said about these animals; from their name (Zhonghua being a name for China) to the fact that the success of this experiment is ushering in a soon-to-be-formally-announced International Primate Research Centre in Shaghai which is intended to become ‘the CERN of primate biology’. Here, however, I’ll focus on just two topics of particular concern to feminist enquiry and gender scholarship: kinship and care.

I’ve spoken with the CIGS MA students about kinship a lot this year. We often think of kinship as being simply a matter of genetic relatedness (parents and children, brothers and sisters), but our discussions have suggested something more complicated. Much of this discussion has taken place in the context of Gayle Rubin’s foundational piece The Traffic in Women wherein Rubin states that ‘Kinship is organization, and organization gives power. But who is organized?’ (Rubin 1975: 174). Rubin concludes that it is women who are organized – trafficked – as objects in a ‘sex/gender system’ premised upon particular kinship relations. On this basis Rubin called for an overhaul of kinship relations as central to any project of emancipation.

It is probably not the overhaul that Rubin anticipated but anthropologist Sophia Roosth reminds us that animals like the macaques very obviously queer kinship categories for they ‘inaugurate new forms of relatedness…[and] do not fit neatly into trees of life based on descent, ancestry, or lineage’ (Roosth 2017: 75). These daughters are their own mothers and are brought into contact with ourselves and our kin who are suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. Meanwhile other kin (the surrogate mother, the genetically identical siblings that died shortly after birth) are sidelined or footnoted. As Donna Haraway said a full decade ago, these new kinship relations necessitate us to ask hard and important questions about kinship:

‘Who are my kin in this odd world of promising monsters, vampires, surrogates, living tools, and aliens? How are natural kinds identified in the realms of late-twentieth-century technoscience? What kinds of crosses and offspring count as legitimate and illegitimate, to whom and at what cost? Who are my familiars, my siblings, and what kind of liveable world are we trying to build?’ (Haraway 1997: 53, emphasis added)

In attempting to address Haraway’s questions, I think it is worth at least dwelling on the observation of Hugh Raffles who, in the context of a different animals, notes a kinship paradox at the heart of these experiments, the fact that these animals:

‘…can be so like us that it seems natural to think of it as our biological surrogate and simultaneously can be so entirely unlike us that it seems equally natural to subject it, without remorse or even concern, to unconstrained destruction.’ (Raffles 2010: 120)

Alongside questions of kinship, these macaques tie into topics I’m discussing with undergraduates in our school as part of a course on ‘gender, technology, and the body’ which concern matters of care and domestic practice. The currently narrated story is one of technological innovation and the power of science that is evidently open to the long-standing critique that domestic and care work, almost invariably undertaken by women, is ignored and deemed irrelevant. In the case of animal experimentation this care work often revolves around everyday activities such as cleaning housing and preparing food. Carrie Friese has conducted extensive research in another biotechnical arena of relevance to this matter; de-extinction wherein extinct species are brought back into the world in a story reminiscent of Jurassic Park. As part of this story Friese tells us about attempts to bring back the gaur, a type of Indian bison. Friese notes that these attempts to bring gaur back from the dead failed not because technological inadequacy but, rather because of husbandry problems: ‘people involved simply did not know how to hand rear a guar’ (Friese & Marris 2014: 2). At the very least we are reminded here that ‘questions regarding animal care need to be understood as a crucial part of de-extinction experimentation, rather than downstream concerns’ (Friese & Marris 2014: 2). The challenges for those working with Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua will be different to those working with gaur (if wikipedia’s figures are to be believed, something in the region of 41,000 macaques will be used in animal experiments in the United States this year, which suggests a lack of knowledge will not be a problem) but care and domestic work will remain central to these endeavours. Taking account of this unacknowledged work – and asking, again, for whom and at what cost – is something that feminist and gender studies scholars and particularly accustomed to. That expertise and the questioning and understanding kinship and care remains as relevant today as it was to Rubin writing half a century ago.


Friese, C. & Marris, C., 2014. Making De-Extinction Mundane? PLoS Biology, 12(3), pp.12–14.

Haraway, D.J., 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouseTM: feminism and technoscience, New York: Routledge.

Raffles, H., 2010. Insectopedia, New York: Random House.

Roosth, S., 2017. Synthetic: How Life Got Made, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Rubin, G., 1975. The traffic in women: Notes on the “political economy” of sex. In R. Reiter, ed. Toward an Anthropology of Women. New York: Monthly Review Press, pp. 157–210.





This entry was posted in Blog, News.

What does the vote mean to you? 100 years of votes for women

Dora Thewlis arrested whilst campaigning for the right to vote

by Rosemary Lucy Hill, Acting Director, Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies

When I was a lass I used to go and stay at my grandma‘s house and read the books from when my mum was a little girl. One of those books was the Girl annual from about 1956. The annual included the story of the suffragettes. I was astounded by the pictures of women changed to railings and smashing windows, and I was horrified by the force-feeding. This was my first encounter with the campaign for women’s right to vote.

As I grew up the injustice that women could not take part in the electoral system became more obvious to me. Now, as a grown woman and a lecturer in gender studies, I think about these women’s bravery and how they were prepared not only to go to prison for the right to vote, but also die – and I am thoroughly inspired, indebted, and in awe of their determination.

Today the 6th of February 2018, marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act when 8.4 million women in Britain first gained the right to vote. The same act enfranchised 5.6 million working class men who had previously not been able to vote. Not all women gained the vote: only those over 30, with property or a university degree or a member/married to a member of the Local Government Register were eligible. It wasn’t until 1928 that women had the right to vote on the same grounds as men. Nevertheless the act marks an incredible move forward for the recognition of women as human beings, as people who could make their own decisions about their lives. There is still work to be done to fully realise this ambition (for example, taking abortion out of criminal law to enable women to have a say about their own healthcare), but 1918 marks a significant moment.

At the time not everybody agreed that women should have the vote, and I’m not just talking about some Conservative men here. Anarchist women did not feel that the vote was worth fighting for when it would only provide access to an already broken system. However it strikes me that it still necessary to take part in the existing political system even if it does not fully represent the world that we would like to see. How can we change things for the better if we cannot participate in the decisions that are made?

Louise Thompson, Student Education Services Assistant

Now we take the vote as a right, which is as it should be. We tend to forget all the heartache and hard work that women prior to us had to put in to get that right. And this was in only very recent times. I always vote. To me if you don’t vote then you’ve no right to complain about the way the country is run. It’s something we should all do.

 Joanne Greenhalgh, Associate Professor

The vote means I can exercise my right to have a say in who gets to lead the country I live in. It sends a signal that I am being treated equally as a citizen when everyone has the same right to vote.  I used to be a bit disinterested in voting in my early twenties– but I remember in my first job, I shared an office with the female PA of the head of school.  She was outraged that I was considering not voting and explained that other women had died so that I had a right to vote.  She personally drove me to the polling station.  I loved her for this, for making me realise that my right to vote had been hard won, and I have always exercised my right to vote ever since.

Amanda Gannon, Student Placement Officer

The vote was a massive move forward at that time. It still wasn’t equality because of all the conditions of age and class. So it was massive, but still a long way to go. It wasn’t just equality of women, it was equality of classes that still needed significant change. But there is a difference between being able to choose not to vote and not having the right to vote.

Anne Mansfield, Student Support Officer

It’s about having the opportunity to shape things within your community and society as a whole. As a woman you’re potentially giving voice to other women and their struggles, or other groups that are considered disadvantaged by current powers and structures. It’s a good to look back now at advances in society and ask are we pulling everybody up? Because only certain women originally got the vote so if we’re being critical about that we need to be considering what we are doing to ensure that doesn’t happen again. Women from ethnic minority backgrounds or trans-women or migrant women don’t have the same rights as middle-class women.

Julia Bahner, Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow

I think the centenary is a bit ambiguous because it didn’t include all women. I am a migrant woman in the UK: I can’t vote. I’m from Sweden where women got the vote in 1919. Well, all women except intellectually disabled people, who didn’t get the vote until 1985. There is still a problem that information to enable people to make informed decisions about who to vote for is lacking and this significantly affects intellectually disabled people.

Julia Swallow, Research Fellow

I vote because people fought for us to vote. But it’s also about recognising that women have a long way to go. We need to think about who has the capital to vote and remember that policies don’t always affect women positively. We are still only making slow progress, but I think it’s important that I as an individual voice my opinion… but I don’t think the vote does this well. Is positioned as a mark of women’s equality, but I don’t think it does that, especially for lots of women who I can’t vote or feel about it doesn’t extend to meaningful change for them.

Choon Key Chekar, Research Fellow

It’s a surprise how recently the right to vote was granted: in South Korea women didn’t get the vote until 1948.

Kate Hall, Student Education Officer

I’m grateful that I have a chance to vote and my voice is heard. I always exercise my right to vote. I never miss a vote.

Karen Throsby, Associate Professor, Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies

I love going to vote – always in person whenever I can and as early in the day as possible. I like the physicality of marking and folding the paper and sliding it into the ballot box; a moment to be visible, to be heard. And while I’m doing it, I remember the incredible courage of those who fought so that I can vote, and those who are still fighting around the world for that same right.

Anne Kerr, Professor of Sociology

When I vote and see other women voting it’s a powerful reminder of the victories in women’s long battle for equality and a source of inspiration to me to continue to try to challenge sexism and discrimination. I asked my daughters about this and their answers give me a lot of hope for the future. They said women and men should have equal rights and women winning the right to vote was a big step forward, but there’s lots more still to do.

Sharon Elley, Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy

The vote to me means recognising how much women, who I will never personally know and only read about, sacrificed to make it possible for me to vote. It means rejoicing in our achievements and reflecting on the battles still to be won. When I post my vote, I think – smash patriarchy and be counted.

Leslie Hart, Cleaner

I think it’s important to vote. In some foreign countries people die or queue for days in order to vote, so we should vote. I’m not too sure if it makes a difference or not. Hopefully it does. Politicians all seem to be the same, all the parties seem to be the same.

Kim Allen, University Academic Fellow – Urban Sociology (Youth and Inequality)

For me the vote symbolises a recognition of my agency and right as a political actor to speak for myself rather than be ignored or spoken on behalf of by men.  As a woman I feel it is my right and responsibility to vote – however frustrated or despondent I might feel at times with the political system (and after 8 years of a Conservative-led government it’s hard not to be).  Using my vote is a responsibility to past generations of women whose actions and sacrifices meant that I can go to the polling booth, put a cross in one of those boxes, and for this cross to count.  But I also feel a sense of duty to women of today and to future generations of women because the decisions made by those in power affect women’s lives differently – and in most cases adversely.  We’ve seen this with the Conservative government’s austerity policies which have disproportionately impacted upon women, especially BME, working-class and refugee women. Foregrounding women’s needs and demands in the decisions we make about who we elect is one way in which we can support women’s rights.  There are many things that are flawed with electoral politics and I have some empathy for those who feel that it is better to put your energies into other forms of grassroots political activism. I believe that it’s vital that we engage in both. Electoral politics is not perfect and it’s certainly not the only way to change things but it’s also a privilege that many women still do not have.

Leslie Knope

Besides, my hero Leslie Knope would be very disappointed if I didn’t use my right to vote.

Amina Easat-Daas, ‘Counter-Islamophobia Kit’ Project Officer

I actually looked at Muslim women’s political participation in France and Belgium for my PhD – so this is something I am quite passionate about. As a young, ethnic minority, visibly Muslim woman I would say that women’s right to vote is hugely important, as it contributes towards underlining the presence of women as an active part of society and the political process. Nonetheless, the right to vote is not the end point, rather going forward there should be greater emphasis on the meaningful political representation of women and involvement in the political decision making process.

So today we remember, thank and celebrate the women who campaigned at great personal cost for our right to vote here in the UK and around the world.

There are many events taking place this year to celebrate the centenary – see https://www.vote100.uk for more information.

For more on the campaign for the vote in the UK, our own Jill Liddington’s books are a great read. Jill also gives talks and walking tours. See http://www.jliddington.org.uk/index.html for more information.

For more on Amina’s work on Muslim women’s political participation see  https://leeds.academia.edu/AminaEasatDaas

I want to thank all my colleagues who gave me their time to think about what the vote means to them.

This entry was posted in Blog, News.

Women’s Perceptions of Domestic Violence in the Punjab, Pakistan

By Faiza Tayyab, PhD candidate, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds. @fwaseem

The situation for women in Pakistan with regards to domestic violence is bleak, this in spite of the fact that laws are enacted to protect them in the domestic sphere. Women are socialised in such a way that many women justify domestic violence against them. My recent article (Tayyab et al., 2017) highlights this fact quite aptly as the findings show that more women justified wife beating as an acceptable act compared to men. We need to know why, but we need also to take into account the diversity of women’s experiences in Pakistan. Treating all Pakistani women as a single category is inadequate as there is significant diversity in the statuses of women across the country due to the intersections of regions, urban/rural division, class, age, and education. Moreover, there are other important categories that are based on ethnicity and religious identity of women. About 3.6% of the population of Pakistan consists of religious minorities, with Christians being one of the largest. Minority status also carries discrimination and victimisation due to certain discriminatory laws. Minority women are said to face double jeopardy both as women in a patriarchal society and as Christians in a majority Muslim country. The existing literature on domestic violence in Pakistan does not sufficiently consider the minority status of women and how this positions them in their domestic relations in the local context.

My research, therefore, investigates the issue of domestic violence from the standpoint of those Christian minority women at risk, alongside Muslim majority women. I will be speaking to Christian and Muslim women from urban and rural localities to examine their perceptions of domestic violence. I will also consider how gender intersects with other oppressions and social locations in constituting the realities of women with regards gender relations and in developing their perceptions of domestic violence.

If we want to see a change in future then understanding the perceptions of domestic violence from an intersectional perspective is crucial. If we investigate where the problem lies then we will be in a better place to do more than impose laws that are not grounded in the realities of women’s lives. This study will be able to suggest the need basis initiatives to overcome domestic violence instead of a single solution for all segments of women. This research will also provide the baseline for further research with minority women.


Tayyab, F., Kamal, N., Akbar, T. and Zakar, R. 2017. Men and women’s perceptions of justifications of wife beating: Evidence from Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2012–13. Journal of Family Violence. 32(7), pp.721-730. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10896-017-9910-y


This entry was posted in Blog, News.

#Metoo and the task of coalition building to combat violence against women

by Jessica Wild, PhD candidate, School of Sociology & Social Policy

The recent social media campaign  #metoo transpired following numerous public disclosures of sexual violence, initially by women in show business. This prompted a renewed focus on the widespread perpetration of (sexual) violence against women across all facets of society. Arguably, the campaign gained such significant traction because of the high profiles of the women who spoke out, however its reach has now facilitated a broader public articulation of narratives of the sexism and misogyny women experience daily. For many victim-survivors, it is often only when their experiences are reflected in public discourse that they identify and name their own experience. This has functioned in some ways to galvanise victim-survivors and collectivise their experiences, while sending out a message that they are not alone, pointing to a broader social problem, rather than an individual phenomenon.

The #metoo campaign has also simultaneously sparked a counter discourse from some men, prompting them to speak out and publicly take a stand against violence against women through an acknowledgement of their complicity in this issue. In this, they have highlighted that (men’s) silence indeed equates to collusion when it comes to violence against women. Campaigns such as these therefore plausibly challenge all men’s silence and their collective complicity in a problem which is rooted in social norms and a patriarchal system from which the majority of men routinely benefit. However, at a time when one of the most powerful men in the world has had his own sexually abusive behaviour exposed, and yet remains in office, the extent to which this deeply rooted problem can be challenged through campaigns such as this, is less discernible. It also becomes glaringly obvious that the lived experiences of some women and girls often cannot compete with the privilege and power of some men. Indeed, are we to applaud the men that come out and acknowledge their collusion in this issue, not only via their silence but also often through subtle engagement with violence supportive norms and behaviours that are considered common place and an aspect of mere ‘banter’?

The most recent UK domestic abuse statistics indicate that 8.2% of women and 4.0 % of men reported any form of domestic abuse in the year ending March 2015. This is equivalent to 1.3 million female victim-survivors, and 600 000 male victim-survivors (ONS, 2016), with overall statistics indicating that on average one in four women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime, and two women killed every week by a current or former partner (Women’s Aid, 2016). Sexual violence is just one form of a range of abuses women and girls experience daily, indicative of the widespread normalisation of violence against women. Despite this, the public narrative and the stories that we tell about women’s experiences of abuse typically remain stubbornly fixed on victims rather than perpetrators, and there has been limited recognition until more recently, that this is an issue which is not the sole prerogative of women to address.  The UK government’s violence against women and girls strategy (2016-2020) outlines an approach which coheres with this assertion, operating on the basic notion that violence against women is “everybody’s business”, with a strategic focus on the engagement of “men, boys and bystanders” to challenge violence against women and “further social change”(Home Office, 2016, p. 52).  Policies implemented under welfare reform are however severely at odds with the Government’s strategy, because while it seemingly recognises the scale of the problem, it has not allocated funds or resources sufficient for the intervention and prevention work required to address this issue in the longer term (Towers and Walby, 2012). This makes for treacherous terrain when seeking to explore new prevention approaches not least because service providers as well as victim-survivors themselves, are often faced with severe funding and provision uncertainty (Robson, 2016).

Given the persistent “everydayness” (Kelly and Westmarland, 2016) and pervasive nature of this issue, we need to begin reworking the normative discourses that inform approaches to prevention, which should strive to go beyond social media campaigns.  This entails resituating the attribution of responsibility and accountability within the public story of sexual and domestic abuse. In practice, this equates to a shifting of responsibility from women and those that experience violence and abuse, to all actors in society, including (non-perpetrating) men. Dismantling the dominant social order which precipitates this violence entails in part, engaging men as social justice ‘allies’, tasked with making it more socially acceptable to resist sexism and misogyny, and call out those who engage with harmful social norms. My research explores these ideas of coalition or alliance building between women and men to prevent domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women. In this, I examine the participation of men in prevention efforts as part of the wider (feminist) social justice movement to address this issue.  This is predicated on the notion that until those that are powerful take an active role in seeking to end discrimination, discrimination and oppression will persist (Casey, 2010). Failure to recognise the role of men in this context can also be construed as the product of a persistent prejudice within a patriarchal system that systematically benefits those in power, and which is indicative of a reluctance to dismantle the dominant social order.

The task of including men as social justice allies in this type of work is not however without significant challenges and risks, which include concerns regarding the co-optation of the women’s anti-violence movement and the obfuscation of women’s voices, particularly when set against the backdrop of the current socio-political climate of austerity.  The political ideology that first underpinned early feminist anti-violence work is also increasingly challenged by the ever more popular discourse of post-feminism. While the definitional boundaries of the term are often quite blurry or overly generalised, in its most common form, post-feminism draws upon the tenets of individual choice, entitlement and (female) empowerment (Gill and Scharff, 2011). Crucially, it espouses the notion that early feminist battles have now been fought and won. In this, post-feminism is positioned as a rejection of the second-wave’s so-called victim-centred feminism and instead offers up women’s (perceived) individual choices and self-determination as an alternative to more radical feminist or political activism (Butler, 2013; Walby, 2011). Informed by neoliberal ideals regarding women’s social positioning and sexuality, postfeminist thought according to this reading, is potentially very damaging for work aimed at addressing men’s violence towards women because it risks positioning women as responsible for their own victimisation, and shifts focus away from the structural conditions and systems of power that precipitate this social problem. It also enables domestic abuse and violence against women to be reconstituted as the problem of individual women and aberrant men (Stanko, 1990).

When situated within this framework, and current socio-political climate, a shift in focus from structural conditions and systems of power, to the individual agency of citizens, functions as Walby (2011) argues, to resituate the gaze onto those that are relatively powerless. This in turn, can lead to victim blaming, while those in power escape public scrutiny. It also risks a potential regression to the early stages of the anti-violence against women movement of the 1980s, which fervently fought to move the issue of domestic abuse out of the private domain of the home, and into the public realm (Dobash and Dobash, 1992). Meaningful and sustainable responses to domestic and sexual abuse require that gender inequality is addressed in a way that acknowledges the role that men play in this, as well as a critical examination of the structural conditions that enable it. This requires the unified strength of collective feminist activism and political action. The notion that feminism has now achieved everything it set out to achieve, or that the most important battles have been won, is incredibly damaging for work to address deep rooted gendered social problems such as domestic abuse. And, in the shadow of campaigns such as #metoo, and current domestic abuse statistics, it is hard to believe that indeed the most important battles have been won.



Butler, J. 2013. For White Girls Only?: Postfeminism and the Politics of Inclusion. Feminist Formations. 25(1), pp.35-58.

Casey, E. 2010. Strategies for Engaging Men as Anti-Violence Allies: Implications for Ally Movements. Advances in Social Work 11(2), pp.267-282.

Dobash, R.E. and Dobash, R.P. 1992. Women, violence and social change. London: Routledge.

Gill, R. and Scharff, C. 2011. New femininities: postfeminism, neoliberalism and subjectivity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Home Office. 2016. Violence against Women and Girls Strategy 2016 – 2020. London: HM Government.

Kelly, L. and Westmarland, N. 2016. Naming and defining ‘domestic violence’: Lessons from research with violent men. Feminist Review. 112(1), pp.113-127.

ONS. 2016. Chapter 4: Intimate personal violence and partner abuse. [Online]. [Accessed 08/08/2016]. Available from: http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/compendium/focusonviolentcrimeandsexualoffences/yearendingmarch2015/chapter4intimatepersonalviolenceandpartnerabuse.

Robson, S. 2016. Challenging Austerity: The impact of austerity measures on women’s voluntary community organisations and the response of the women’s sector. [Online]. London: Women’s Resource Centre. Available from: https://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/State-of-the-womens-sector-survey-reportMay2016-FINAL.pdf.

Stanko, E.A. 1990. Intimate intrusions: women’s experience of male violence. London: Unwin Hyman.

Towers, J. and Walby, S. 2012. Measuring the impact of cuts in public expenditure on the provision of services to prevent violence against women and girls Lancaster University, Northern Rock Foundation, and Trust for London.

Walby, S. 2011. The future of feminism. Cambridge: Polity.

Women’s Aid. 2016. Women’s Aid Annual Survey 2015: the findings London: Women’s Aid.


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Thanksgiving: the relationship between sport, society and oppression. Introduction.

For Thanksgiving this year, Greg Hollin and 5 colleagues compiled a collection of posts on the theme of “Thanksgiving: the relationship between sport, society and oppression”. You can download the collection in pdf form here, but CIGS is also proud to be able to host the series as individual posts here on the blog. There are 6 posts in all, beginning with Greg’s introduction below. Enjoy!


Members of the San Francisco 49ers kneel for the national anthem.

By Greg Hollin

Today, the forth Thursday in November, millions of North Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving. Like many others around the world my thoughts and actions today are shaped by two spheres of American life. First, and as fans pour into stadiums in Dallas, Detroit, and Washington, I will be meeting with friends and watching a lot of American Football. Thanksgiving and American Football are inextricably entangled. Much like Association Football and Boxing Day (December 26th) in the UK, playing football on Thanksgiving is a tradition which extends back into the 19th century and the National Football League (NFL) has hosted games on Thanksgiving every year since the league was founded in 1920. Even as someone who supports the side that, last year, suffered ‘the worst defeat in the history of sport’ I find myself drawn back to this tradition.

Second, I will be thinking about colonialism. As Ashley Niccole McCray and Lawrence Ware say in their article for CounterPunch:

‘Let’s be honest. On the last [sic] Thursday of November, every year, we celebrate the beginning of an European invasion that ends with the death or relocation of millions of native people.’

McCray and Ware’s piece is just one of many arguing that Thanksgiving needs to be radically rethought and decolonized. An acknowledgement that Thanksgiving is bound up with colonialism and genocide is not enough; the matter needs to be front and centre for, as Howard Zinn notes in his famed book A People’s History of the United States:

‘To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves – unwittingly – to justify what is done.’ (Zinn 1980: 9)


Under normal circumstances, colonialism and football would occupy different spaces in my mind. This year, however, things are quite different. In part, this is due to the fact that the Washington Redskins – the most brazen of all racist American team names – are playing this Thanksgiving. This coming together of sport, racism, and colonialism is also apparent, however, because of ongoing protests against police brutality made mainly, although not exclusively, by African-American athletes playing in the NFL.

As Rembert Browne writes for Bleacher Report these protests over police brutality came to international attention in August 2016 when it was noticed that then San Francisco 49ers (and now unemployed) quarterback Colin Kaepernick was sitting through the national anthem. (Kaepernick subsequently starting kneeling following conversations with ex-NFL player and military veteran Nate Boyer who suggested that kneeling was more respectful than sitting in a military context.) Over a year later, Kaepernick’s protest continues to generate front page news, not least because of numerous and notable provocations and incidents. First, Donald Trump’s repeated pronouncements on the protests. Second, star Seattle player Michael Bennett’s apparent arrest and mistreatment by the Las Vegas Police Department. Third, mind blowingly offensive statements from NFL owners. And forth, Kaepernick’s ongoing lawsuit which claims that owners of NFL teams have colluded to keep him out of the league. All this, of course, has occurred against ongoing acts of violence which were the cause of protests in the first place. For the first time in a long time, those of us who watch the NFL are being forced to consider matters of race at the exact same moment that we are watching the sport.


The links in the text above provide a good summary of the particularities of the Kaepernick case. The purpose of this blog, however, is to ask a slightly broader question into which the current case clearly fits: what is the relationship between oppression and sport? It seems to me that there are three answers generally proffered in relation to this question.

The first is to suggest that we need to keep politics out of sport. Like church and state, politics and sport need to be kept apart for the good of us all. Recent polls (discussed in the above link) suggest that the majority of Americans feel this way. The problem, of course, is that this is impossible. As the recent Oscar winning documentary OJ: Made in America made clear, politics and sport are absolutely intertwined. How could it be otherwise when there is an Alternative Soccer World Cup for peoples whose nations are not recognised by Soccer’s world governing body, FIFA?

The second option is to consider sport as a mirror of society or broader social patterns. Perhaps the fact that female tennis players and academics are paid less than their male peers should be understood as part of the same patriarchal culture? Examples of this argument are widespread and well-founded. In his biography of Muhammed Ali, for example, David Remnick argues that ‘Ali may not have read W.E.B. Du Bois, but he was a living example of the “two-ness,” the “double-consciousness,” described in The Souls of Black Folk’ (Remnick 1999: 278). The implication here is that Ali, his views, and his treatment can be understood with reference to pre-existing social theories which are not concerned with the particularities of sport.

The third (and final?) option is that sport somehow shapes or modifies oppressions and plays a constitutive role in society. Sport here does not reflect society but, as Jelani Cobb puts it, ‘refracts’ (that is, modifies) national anxieties. This view is well articulated by the historian, journalist, and socialist CLR James. In Beyond a Boundary, often claimed to be the greatest sports book ever written, James discusses liberal and socialist histories of Victorian England. James is aghast that these histories do not include mention of W.G. Grace, one of cricket’s most enduring icons and important players:

‘I can no longer accept the system of values which could not find in these books a place for W.G. Grace… Between those who, writing about social life in Britain, can leave him out, and myself, there yawns a gulf deep and wide.’ (James 1963/2005: 208)

For James, understanding society necessitates an understanding of sport – not as an epiphenomenon but as a constitutive element.


For me, understanding the relationship between sport, society, and oppression is a fascinating and important area of sociological inquiry; albeit an area I am not qualified to contribute to. Fortunately, here at Leeds there are a number of scholars whose work entails a detailed understanding of the relationship between sport and society. This Thanksgiving, at a time when colonialism and sport are to the front of so many minds, I asked scholars in our school a question which speaks to this matter:

“How should we understand the role of sport within society, with particular reference to various oppressions?”

In answering this question there is first is a contribution by Sonja Erikainen. Sonja (@SonjaErikainen on twitter) is a research fellow at The University of Edinburgh but, until recently, was a research student in the school. Sonja’s PhD involved a genealogy of the female category in Olympic sport. The current piece engages extensively with Colin Kaepernick and the ‘take a knee’ movement.

Second, work from Hizer Mir. Hizer (@hizzy20) is a PhD researcher in the school. Hizer’s work concerns matters of Islam, secularization, and understandings of the public sphere and last year Hizer discussed some of these issues in relation to ‘Steph Curry’s game winning shot’ making his work particularly applicable to the current context.

Third, Kay Phoenix Nacto. Phoenix is a PhD student in the school whose work engages with feminism, race, and popular culture. In this piece, Pheonix addresses another facet of the debate surrounding race and the NFL: the decision to invite Justin Timberlake to the superbowl in 2017 while ignoring Janet Jackson.

Fourth, a piece from Karen Throsby. Karen (@thelongswim) is Associate Professor within the school and has written extensively on gender and long distance swimming. It is from within this sporting arena that Karen situates her piece here.

Finally, the thoughts of Rodanthi Tzanelli, Associate Professor of Cultural Psychology. Rodanthi (@RodanthiPu) has written extensively on media, tourism, and globalization and this includes work examining recent Olympic ceremonies. The current piece, which Rodanthi has entitled ‘football mobilities’ examines oppression with a global focus very much in mind.

The answers below, ordered alphabetically, are thoughtful and diverse and I hope they make us all think about this matter a little more closely.


James, C., 2005. Beyond a Boundary, London: Yellow Jersey Press.

Remnick, D., 1999. King of the World: Muhammed Ali and the Rise of an American Hero, New York: Picador.

Zinn, H., 1980. A People’s History of the United States, New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

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Thanksgiving: the relationship between sports, society and oppression (2/6)

By Sonja Erikainen

After Colin Kaepernick ‘took the knee’ during the American national anthem at the 2016 NFL season to protest racial stereotyping and injustice in the US legal system, many athletes have embraced kneeling down during the American anthem as an anti-racist practice allied with the Black Lives Matter social movement. In response to this activism, US president Donald Trump used his notable social media presence to condemn such kneeling, declaring that “Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag — we MUST honor and respect it!”

Sport is often viewed as an apolitical sphere or, indeed, as a level playing field disconnected from broader social, cultural, and economic conditions, as success and excellence in sport should be determined based on performance alone. Yet, institutionalised competitive sport in America and elsewhere is a space where national and social identities, inequalities, and forms of oppression are highlighted, reproduced, and resisted. When ‘taking the knee’, athletes like Kaepernick contribute to a long history of political activism in sport that targets broader inequalities beyond the sporting world.

Benedict Anderson famously argued that nations, like other social communities, are ‘imagined’ in the sense that national identities, including ‘American’, are collectively created or constructed through a process of active imagination. National identities require a vision of a national community with shared attributes, values, and ideals that unite all of ‘us’ – the Americans. The idea of ‘national sport’ is particularly useful for creating a sense of shared national identity, as it allows ‘us’ to rally around ‘our’ national teams and ‘our’ sporting heroes and heroines. Indeed, athletes often come to symbolise or represent the national collective, and their bodies stand as symbols of the ‘body politic’. Their victories are celebrated as a national accomplishment while their losses are suffered collectively.

Yet, when it comes to athletes who embody identities that occupy a marginalised position in the cultural and political life of the nation – such as African American identities and bodies in the hegemonic white culture of the US – their ability to represent the nation (‘correctly’) is not clear cut. The bodies and identities of African American athletes evoke not only contemporary debates about the status of ‘race’ in American society, but they also evoke related colonial legacies that have long portrayed black subjects as uncivilised, uncultured, deviant, child-like at best and animal-like at worst. Exemplary is the imaginary of the ‘natural black athlete’, which represents black athletes’ sporting achievements as a side-product of natural (animal-like) vigour of black bodies, contrasted against white athletes’ sporting accomplishments represented to be a cultural attainment achieved through refined skill and technique. Viewed through this lens, the success of black athletes in the sphere of sports appears as the result of their perceived natural aptitude for hard bodily labour (recalling justifications for slavery), contrasted against white subjects’ perceived aptitude for cultural and intellectual endeavours.

African American anti-racist sport activism has always taken place in the context of these broader socio-historical, cultural and political circumstances through which black subjects have been systematically denied access to American cultural life and political power. Athletic participation and excellence has served as one of the few avenues through which cultural legitimacy and recognition has historically been awarded to black communities under conditions of white supremacy. From riots to protests and boycotts to dashikis, large afros, and raised fists as a challenge to dominant white norms and white supremacy, African American athletes have used a myriad of strategies to resist, challenge, and change oppressive social structures. Such activism has overwhelmingly been condemned and demonised as anti-American by defenders of the ‘American dream’ because it poses a threat to the national ethos of American society, imagined as a liberal sphere where prosperity and success are attainable for all, if one only works hard.

The sphere of sport, and the identities and bodies of athletes who occupy this sphere at the highest competitive level, have great symbolic power when it comes to reproducing as well as resisting the nation’s image of itself. When Trump condemned ‘taking the knee’ as disrespectful and dishonourable anti-patriotism, he stood as a champion of American nationalist imaginaries within which national unity is created by suppressing alternative visions of cultural and political life. Kaepernick and others’ act of kneeling is dangerous to this vision of unity, because it poses a symbolic challenge and a threat to American racial hierarchies within which black lives have not, and are not taken to matter as white lives do.

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Thanksgiving: the relationship between sport, society and oppression (3/6)

By Hizer Mir

The role of sport in society has undergone a transformation in the past two years or so, ever since Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during his country’s national anthem. Perhaps, however, this story would be slightly misleading as Mahmoud Abdul Rauf protested during the American national anthem well before Kaepernick took a knee. Who did what first does not concern us however. What does concern us is what both events show. What both instances show us is that sport can go far beyond being the “bread and circuses” of modern society. Perhaps what marks Kaepernick’s experience off from Abdul Rauf’s is the election of Donald Trump. The election of Donald Trump has led to the politicisation of sport on an hitherto unprecedented scale. The list of incidences are endless: Trump’s SoB comment, the withdrawing of an invite to the Golden State Warriors, the far right boycotting of the NFL and embracing of the NHL and so on.

So what does this mean for the role of sport in today’s society? Whilst sport has not become as politicised in the UK as in the US (yet) we can draw some general points from occurrences in the US.

The first, and most important, role sports play is that of a mirror to society. It reflects who we are and if we don’t like it then something must change. We can either change ourselves or we can look away. Perhaps a comparison can be made between a disfigured person looking in the mirror and turning away and the far right turning from the NFL to the NHL.

The second role is new to sports. It is as a gateway to the political. The political has infiltrated sports thus leading to a politicisation of sports. This can be seen quite clearly in the sports talk shows in the US (especially First Take and Undisputed). This role is perhaps the most controversial as it has led to a backlash in which people claim politics should be kept out of sport. This should be seen as a cry to place sport within the category of a distraction from the “real” world. This role can be seen more in the US than the UK at the present time.

The third role is that of a mediator between the political class and a (significantly large) portion of the electorate. This role comes as a direct result of the second. When Kaepernick took a knee he was doing so on the basis of thoughts and actions of people far less famous and far less able to capture the spotlight. Thus Kaepernick, and now others, have become a vehicle through which the demands of the often overlooked can be voiced on a national stage. The implications of this are grave. The implication of this is the failure of the current political order to adequately represent everyone. Thus, for some, sports more adequately represents them than do their politicians.


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