Cambridge Girl Talk are looking for a group of enthusiastic self-identifying women to form our 2017-18 committee. Positions include Events Director (x2) Sponsorship Organiser, Social Media Co-ordinator, Blog Editor and Head of Visual. Please send a brief email to email@example.com introducing yourself, stating which role you are interested in and why before 25th June.
‘[Although Architecture] may be seen to be rooted in pragmatism, it is a powerful and extraordinarily revealing expression of human psychology [reflecting the] ambitions, insecurities and motivations of those who build.’
– An extract from The Edifice Complex: An Architecture of Power
To me, The Edifice Complex by architectural critic Deyan Sudjic, beautifully explains the ways in which buildings throughout history – usually of a patriarchal, political or religious nature – have been carefully and often ruthlessly orchestrated to intimidate their guests. Rather than elaborate external symbols of power, subtle manipulations of architecture have been used to leave guests feeling ‘suitably intimidated.’ Although not reflecting the same ambitions, insecurities and motivations; I was interested in the themes explored in Sudjic’s writings and how they might be applicable to the analysis of many other building types and programmes. Characteristically, I chose to write my dissertation on Prada: an Architecture of Manipulation, and the ways in which luxury brands use architecture to manipulate consumers.
My dissertation examined the interweaving of politics, religion, gender and music in relation to Iranian women singers. My focus was on the changes incurred by the revolution in 1979, which saw a dramatic shift from the modernising, Westernising stance held during the Pahlavi era (1925-1979) to the Islamic theocratic rule secured by Supreme Leader Khomeini.
As dominant attitudes towards religion and gender changed, legislation surrounding music, which Khomeini believed was ‘like a drug’, also transformed to correspond with Shari’a law. Under immense religio-political pressure, music largely retreated into the private sphere, with the notable exceptions of the revolutionary hymns and anthems played by the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, and the establishment of the annual Hymns and Revolutionary Music Festival in 1986. More specifically, the solo voice was thought to symbolise Western individualism and consumerism, antithetical to the revolutionary vision; and, furthermore, women’s voices were considered to make men think of things other than God. As a result, Iranian women singers were hit hard by the revolution, which appeared to present them with an ultimatum: either stop singing or leave their country.
(This article contains mentions of abortion, obstetric abuse, battery and discussion of cis-sexism).
My dissertation looks at one particular ‘girl talk’ and its codes of transmission: women talking about giving birth. I first became interested in birth stories when reading about the 2013 California court case of a woman, Kelly, who sued her obstetrician for battery after he performed an episiotomy on her as she begged him to stop. This is just one story in a history of birthing bodies labouring under abuse of authority: the Mexican woman unable to communicate with her doctor, told by her mother to do as he said; the women pressured into convenience caesareans or else labelled ‘too posh to push’; the trans man terrified to give birth in an NHS hospital; the six out of ten US episiotomies performed without consent.
There is clearly a need for talk about birth- education in the form of transmission of stories. Nevertheless, my reading prompted the realisation that there is only one established genre of women talking about birth: Old Wives’ Tales. The bad reputation of this grisly genre precedes it, leading to the startling realisation that our stories of birth do not come from those who have given birth themselves. Instead, they come from medical professionals, the state, partners and friends. Think about the books you have read with birth scenes, the films, the TV shows. Where were these stories coming from?
And yet, birth is a huge moment in anyone’s life. We need stories about birth. When it comes to talk about birth, a woman talking to other women forms a ‘we’; building solidarity amongst diverse groups and enabling us to transmit feminist critique from this place of solidarity. But we must also recognize that such bonding also engenders division. In a patriarchy, women too are responsible for the transmission, and often the enforcement, of social rules and codes. Where solidarity can be built across women, birth talk can also exclude certain groups.
In celebration of Mother’s Day, it seemed only natural to turn to our most loyal fans and generous patrons: our mums. As we grow older the adage that ‘mum knows best’ only rings truer and truer. So, with a postcard penned by Sabira Khakoo and some life hacks from Pauline Grady, we turn to them for a dose of wisdom and love that only mothers know how to give.
On 14th March, The Webb Library in Jesus College hosted Cambridge Girl Talk’s second event ‘Women in Fashion’ with Jane Shepherdson CBE, former CEO of Whistles and Brand Director of Topshop; Kerry Taylor, fashion historian, auctioneer and owner of Kerry Taylor Auctions: the world’s leading fashion auction house; Pandora Sykes (freelance journalist, stylist, brand consultant and presenter of The High Low podcast) and Ellie Pithers, fashion features editor of British Vogue. The event was chaired by Dr Alice Blackhurst, Junior Research Fellow in Visual Culture at Kings College. Check out pictures and highlights from the evening below.
My dissertation looks at the work of Margaret Harrison, a British artist who made a series of pieces in the 1970s about various issues affecting women at the time (and indeed, still). Her pieces are consciously feminist and activist, and tie into her heavy involvement in the Women’s Liberation Movement, participating in consciousness-raising groups, meetings and protests like the one that took place at the Miss World Beauty Pageant in 1971, where Harrison played the character of “Miss Loveable Bra”, wearing orange fur nipples!
Even Harrison’s earliest work was vociferously political: her first exhibition, in 1971, consisting of a series of pop-art-style drawings that subversively played with the gender stereotypes embodied by cartoon superheroes and pin-ups, was shut down by police on its first day due its ostensibly offensive content. Police at the time said that it was her representation of men (such as Hugh Hefner) in stereotypically ‘sexy’, feminine clothing that most offended their sensibilities.