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On Gender – Museum of Transology

February 16, 2017 in Inclusive Learning and Teaching

Even before visiting the Museum of Transology exhibition at LCF, I had questions:

Of all the colleges and all the spaces, why LCF?  

What makes London College of Fashion the right (or wrong) place for a collection of trans objects, artefacts and instruments?

Was this a ‘Museum’ as the wider public would understand it, with its connotations of categorisation, accession, collecting, or would this be a provocation of both gender and institutional norms?

And the worrier in me wondered if I would be able to connect, to empathise, feel anything for it?  People have their causes, their own passions, struggles and battles, and I will be honest enough to say that the transgender agenda has only occasionally crossed my path.   

What confronted me was actually much more personal, much more practical, and more engaging than I had expected.  I especially felt connected to the handmade, crafted solutions to problems faced by the trans community.  I can absolutely identify with the need to ‘make’ your way through your identity.

transology

The collection looked very much at the every day trans experience, from bras to hormones, to letters and accounts of discrimination and lack of understanding or knowledge.

The one display that stayed with me most, was the one I was least comfortable sneaking a photograph of.  Someone had had their breasts removed, but asked to keep them post-op.  The letter from the hospital, and the accompanying breasts, really brought home the challenges faced by someone living in a body not of their own identity.  To not feel able to be yourself in your own body to the extent that you would cut something off… and then to exhibit your choice so openly, and share with others your decision, … I can’t begin to imagine what that journey must be like.

On Gender – Gender Diversity at UAL website

February 14, 2017 in Inclusive Learning and Teaching

How could you apply the resources to your own teaching practice?

How could you integrate the research/work your students do on this subject into your teaching/professional practice?

Can you cite examples?
The Gender Diversity at UAL website is a good resource for students and staff who are maybe unaware of the trans community at UAL.  The Transgender Umbrella illustration is especially useful for staff, because it articulates the non-binary, inclusive nature of the blog.  ‘Emcompasses any individual who crosses over or challenges society’s traditional gender roles and/or expressions.’

One of the areas I have always explored is the patriarchal hierarchy of traditional workshop spaces.  Print workshops and production workshops have developed from a tradition of the ‘master’ practitioner, and modern workshops within universities perpetuate this hierarchy by ‘grading’ technicians, and by our separation from academics, both in terms of real wages, as well as the research resources we are able to access.  There are simply more men at the top than women.  In the technical areas, this can result in a machismo, a ‘lad’ culture, that we laugh off in front of students, but secretly scream at from within.  So where do trans and non binary students fit in?

I hope students can come to the Print & Design workshops and see that the equality and opportunity they read about in arts practices are in full force on the ground.  It is important to me that there are no ‘gendered’ roles in the workshop, no subscription to the ‘master’ and his physical domain.   That printmaking is adoptable, changeable, accepting and inclusive, is at the core of what I do.

 In our notes and resources, we are careful about neutral imagery and pronouns, but more than just staying neutral, we embrace the different.  In the Printmaking workshops, we encourage alternative and creative practice, and reduce as much risk as possible in our health and safety to make sure everyone can participate.  Traditional processes are carefully reviewed for their practical value, rather than their historic qualifiers.

As an aside to this exercise, I think it is very interesting that many of the anecdotal contributions about the LGBTQ experience could be easily adapted to express concerns with race, example:

Promoting inclusivity
Talk to each other, not over each other.

As we build a more inclusive university we need to learn when to listen and when to speak up. There needs to be a plurality of voices in our arts, culture, media, education, all branches of life, and our organisations and classrooms need to reflect it.

This doesn’t mean we should tolerate racial stereotyping – quite the opposite, actually. We need to make sure that we make voices heard. Talk to each other, not over each other.

That being said, minorities don’t have the responsibility to constantly explain themselves. They might do a fair bit of that elsewhere. Misinformed questions like “So you’re not from China?” or “Ok, you’re Canadian, but where are you really from/where are your parents from?” get surprisingly dull after a while. Many such questions can come across as offensive even if you don’t mean them that way. There’s often no way to ask those things without being offensive.

It’s good to do a bit of your own research. Focus on resources written by or at least with the community you’re looking into. Everyone is their own expert: you on you, me on me.

Gender

February 11, 2017 in uncategorised

Gender

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Bell Hooks (2013) Understanding patriarchy

This short but to the point article added complexity to my understanding of patriarchy. It did this through highlighting the roots of the system, which Hooks seemed to suggest went deeper than a male desire to be the dominant group. Hooks made me consider how the underlying value systems of a culture or society frame and embed the damaging behaviours that patriarchy encourages. That is a capitalist system based on a notion of individual ‘success’ and reward that revolves around control of economies, culture and social life. If anyone can recommend any further reading around 4th wave feminism and intersectionality or Marx and feminism, please post. I have already recommended to two students that they read this Hooks article as it is relevant to the topics they want to write about in their essays.

I also learned about Hooks’ personal background and this made me feel sad. It reminded me how when theory is related to personal experience and emotion then it is much easier to understand and to engage with. A number of feminist writers have used this approach and put a value on experiential and emotional reflection as a means of understanding. From a fashion perspective, I particularly like Iris Marion Young’s article ‘Women recovering their clothes’ where she talks about her feelings and sensory empathy when she looks at an advertising image for wool, imagining herself as the women depicted in it. She feels the heavy wool skirt swishing around her legs and imagines that she is a visiting academic, arriving off a plane for a conference and being whisked to a fancy dinner – sounds just like my life! This reminds me of my own imagining around clothes, just as Hooks’ memories reminded me of similar feelings of powerlessness and confusion as a ‘Tomboyish’ child (something that Madhur Jaffrey also experienced – see the image above which was from The Guardian Sat 11th Feb 2017). I wonder just how many other people have felt the same? It would be great to do some research around this!

 

In their academic writing, we ask our final year students to reflect on why they have chosen that particular topic to write their final essays and dissertations on, how this might relate to their experience of the world, their design practice and where they see themselves fitting in or not to the fashion system and the world at large. Some write very personal reflections.

One section of the article annoyed me. I would have liked Hooks to evidence her statement that:

…many female-headed households endorse and and promote patriarchal thinking with far greater passion than two-parent households. Because they do not have an experiential reality to challenge false fantasies of gender roles, women in such households are far more likely to idealise the patriarchal male role and patriarchal men than women who live with patriarchal men every day (Hooks 2013:3).

I also felt that when someone is asked to question the notion of binary gender ie what is a ‘man’ and ‘woman’ this can be felt as an assault upon their person as it goes to the core of social identity (whether we like it or not) and we should be mindful of and sensitive to this. Can feminism at times be felt by people to exert a sort of psychological violence against them in this way? Could it take a more gentle, empathetic approach? Would that be more successful? I am drawing a bit of a parallel here with Terrence Real’s notion of psychological patriarchy (Real quoted in Hooks 2013:6).
A thought provoking text.

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Museum of Transology

I was making some links between my response to the article and my response to the exhibition ‘Museum of Transology’ at the Fashion Space Gallery, JPS.

This exhibition was emotionally charged and the objects helped to put the visitor into the everyday worlds of the curators and how their bodies were a site of struggle both physically and culturally. Rather than a rejection of gender categories, the exhibition presented a sense of wanting to be allowed to choose which gender to perform.
This is an interesting addition to museum studies as what museums ignore tells us much about voices, objects and lives that are devalued or ignored within a culture. This would have been a good exhibition to take my material culture students to – but that unit has finished unfortunately!
It is very apt that the exhibition is at LCF as some of our students consistently reflect upon and challenge notions of gender through their everyday lives, design work and academic writing. It’s nice to think that LCF provides them with a space in which they feel that they can do this. Last year the focus of many essays was on the notion of gender ‘neutrality’ in fashion. This year the students are exploring this in more sophisticated ways and asking questions around why gender ‘ neutrality’ in clothing is in actual fact represented as ‘menswear’, whereas women’s clothing is never neutral.

Gender Diversity at UAL

http://supportingtransstudents.myblog.arts.ac.uk/

Resilience: The willingness to adapt and remain motivated, overcome obstacles, and deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, and rejection.

Illustrated by Laura Bianchi for the ‘Attributes Illustrated’ exhibition at UAL High Holborn 6 Feb – 16 April 2017. ‘The Creative Attributes Framework (CAF) is comprised of nine attributes that we have identified will best prepare our students and graduates for their future. The attributes enable them to develop and sustain a rewarding professional life.’

I was not previously aware of the gender diversity at UAL website. It is a useful and informative resource that I and my students can use when researching and which I can draw upon in my teaching practice. On the site there are a number of blogs in the ‘We are UAL*’ section which resonated with the ‘Attributes Illustrated’ exhibition currently on at UAL, High Holborn (see the image above). In the blogs, students discuss their experience and ideas of ‘gender diversity’ and some of the issues they face. This made me realise how difficult it must be for them as a minority in a very binary gendered world and how important an attribute ‘resilience’ is for them in the face of mis-understanding and mis-representation.

How might I apply the Gender Diversity at UAL website in my teaching practice?

The website has made me far more aware of how I address my students and the need to ensure that I avoid making gender assumptions, take the time to ask them how they want to be addressed if this is appropriate, or otherwise use neutral gender terminology.

When we teach the students Research Methods for their Cultural and Historical Studies final written work, we ask them to consider and address any ethical issues that may arise from their topic, methodology and research. They also need to reflect on this in their final piece of writing. In future I will discuss with them the need to be aware of and open to gender diversity as part of the respect and care they should show for any participants taking part in their research, but also that they need to take care in how they define gender in their analysis and writing in order not to offend people.

As many of my final year students are writing about gender diversity in their CYP essays or dissertations, I can now direct them to the website. This will be useful as it is important for them to define the terminology they use in their writing and there are some excellent resources on the site, particularly in the ‘Understanding gender diversity’ section. Indeed when I was writing my own thesis I would have found this website very helpful! This will help them to think through the terms they are using and to analyse their primary sources using the definitions. For example, some of the students have critically explored fashion brands that promote or represent ideas around ‘gender neutrality’ in their advertising (see a recent Zara campaign http://www.zara.com/us/en/trf/ungendered-c816001.html ).

Some students undertake focus groups around the topic of gender for their research often with other students. In one of the blogs in the ‘We are UAL*’ section, Meri Karhm says that she feels safe at UAL because there are many ‘non-conforming gender expressions’ around her. This suggests that the students and staff at UAL are, in comparison to the wider world beyond the university probably more open to diversity. This reminds me how students sometimes forget that collecting responses and attitudes to gender from a group of UAL students in a focus group will produce a particular type of knowledge, which does not necessarily reflect the majority opinion. Reflecting upon the context in which research takes place is so important as it affects the resulting knowledge.

How could I integrate the research/work my students do on this subject into my own teaching practice?

As there are a number of students writing about this subject in their final year essays and dissertations I think it is important to reflect these interests in the 2nd year Cultural and Historical Studies units that we offer to them. I teach on the ‘Fashion as Material Culture’ and the ‘Fashion, Taste and Ethics’ units and gender diversity could be more integrated into both these units. For example, in the Material Culture unit there could be more discussion of how objects are ‘gendered’. Also we explore dress as auto-biography and the notion of the ‘transitional’ object (see Winnicott (1989 [1971]) Playing and Reality. New York: Routledge) in relation to ageing and identity but this could also be relevant to ‘transgender’ experience, as the Museum of Transology exhibition demonstrated.

In the Fashion, Taste and Ethics unit, there is a consideration of gender and taste in post-war Britain, and this could be brought up to date with more discussion and readings around gender diversity. A notion of hybridity is explored in relation to ‘Taste, race and cultural difference’ and again hybridity and cultural difference is also perhaps relevant to gender diversity. This is something that we could possibly integrate into this unit. something that could be integrated into the discussion. In future, as this unit critically explores who defines culture and cultural hierarchies around taste, I will ask the students to consider how the LGBT community are acting as ‘cultural intermediaries’ and helping to redefine gendered ideas around taste.

 

OPTIONS: Inclusive Teaching & Learning – session one feedback

January 31, 2017 in uncategorised

Thoughts

OPTION: Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

January 28, 2017 in uncategorised

What are the central concerns of critical pedagogy?

The central concern of critical pedagogy is ‘domination’.  By seeking the roots of dominant content and forms of teaching, we can uncover, unpack and undermine the biases and stereotypes that dictate prevalent thinking.

If we as teachers perpetuate bias and stereotype through our deposits?
Is education ever neutral?

The student as a depository, whereby the more that is deposited without question, the less active the student becomes, perpetuates stereotypes about gender, race, sexuality, history and dominant ways of thinking.

In what ways does critical pedagogy relate to UK Higher Education?

Critical pedagogy requires a rethink of the traditional teacher-student relationship in higher education.  Rather than the student acting as a vessel for information delivered by the teacher, the student is led to question what is being delivered, and the power structures in place that generate ‘normative’ thinking.

In engaging in this dialogue, students are encouraged to bring personal perspective whilst acknowledging their own biases.

How does critical pedagogy relate to your own practice?

When creating a visual vocabulary with our students, we assume an established alphabet, syntax and morphology that may not be appropriate, engaging, or relevant to our audience.  The references we make lay responsibility at the foot of our students, but only certain students.  In my own practice, this may mean a rethinking to challenge all students with new references, and not just those who did not study the Western European art historical canon.

Discuss one thing you have learned or surprised you from the film.

The film has made me think about critical pedagogy’s role in scaffolding, or zones of proximal development.   Using cooperative learning, and sharing experiences in order to complete a practical task intrigues me, as a parallel to the junction of theory and practice in the arts.

Discuss an aspect of critical pedagogy that you would like more information/clarification on.

At what stage can consciousness of critical pedagogy be introduced into curricula?  Embedding it from the beginning seems obvious, as all children ask ‘why?’, but there remains a blindness to the established primary education canon.

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