The last of the PG CWWN nationwide symposium series of ‘Women on Women’ for 2012 was held on 20 June at the University of Leicester. Entitled ‘Mythic, Magical and Monstrous Women in Contemporary Women’s Writing’ it was always going to attract a great deal of interest, and did so, both in the quantity of high quality papers presented and in the volume of postgraduates, at many different stages of their research, who attended the event.
The three panel sessions, ‘Grotesque Mothers’, ‘Monstrous Women I’ and then two simultaneously running panels of ‘Gender, Ghosts and Haunting’ and ‘Monstrous Women II’, negotiated the numerous genres in which femininities are presented in contemporary fiction as metafictional signifiers of gender boundaries. From research work on novels and short stories through to film and manga the papers sought to both expose and challenge the continued dominance of patriarchy and stereotypical masculine roles whilst simultaneously exploring the challenges facing females in developing their own sexualities and identities within, and sometimes consciously outside of, the patriarchal system. The dichotomous representations of the mother figure as both revered yet derided, and the non-mother as villain yet an exemplar of emancipation were addressed in many of the papers which were thoughtful, vibrant and provoked lengthy, wide-ranging questioning from the audience. Indeed, the inclusion of gender theory, feminism, queer theory, historiography and film theory throughout the speakers’ presentations created the opportunity for much discussion throughout the day.
The keynote speaker to round off this fascinating day was Dr Becky Munford, Senior Lecturer in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University. With research interests in feminism and gender, twentieth century women’s writing and Angela Carter in particular, she was perfectly placed, in light of the event’s overall themes and subsequent discussion, to give her keynote speech on ‘Writing in Blood and Dust: Angela Carter and the Sadeian Gothic’. This proved to be as entertaining as it was enlightening, receiving a very warm reception and subject to lively and varied questioning from an enraptured audience.
One of the most appreciated components of the event, and commented upon by numerous attendees, was its overriding friendliness. Those giving papers, from first-time presenters to those more experienced at presenting their research, were very lucky to be doing so in such a supportive and encouraging environment. The venue itself was easy to find and delegates were warmly greeted by the PG CWWN steering group, replete with name badges and conference packs for delegates. Lunch time arrangements merit some praise, too – a welcome cold buffet lunch, given the tremendous heat of the day that continued to keep everyone satiated well into the afternoon sessions. To complete the event, a wine reception, and a great opportunity to utilise this time for networking with other researchers, sent everyone home smiling and with a great deal of food for thought.
Overall, this well-organised and smooth-running conference day was indicative of the exciting and stimulating research which notably strengthens the interdisciplinary cohesiveness between such subjects as English, philosophy, history, film studies and sociology as it explores the continued representation of gender in twenty-first century creative works. It became very clear throughout the day that there is much valid work to be done in the consideration of, and challenge to, the multifarious nature of the mythic, monstrous and fairy tale woman as a (self-) perpetuation of gender stereotypes in modern culture, and that the postgraduate community is particularly pro-active in this strand of research. I can only say that, after such an inspiring PG CWWN event, I look forward immensely to April 2013 and the next PG CWWN conference in Belfast.
Claire Cowling, Open University