1976 Women’s Liberation Conference Newcastle – were you there??

In April 1976, 1500 women gathered in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the Seventh Annual Women’s Liberation Conference.

Were YOU one of those women?

If so, would you be willing to take part in an interview with a researcher from Northumbria University about your memories of the conference?

The research project is looking at personal memories of the conference as well as media representations of it and is particularly interested in the significance of its being located in Newcastle.

Any memories that you have of the conference will be most valuable (however ‘insignificant’ or ‘hazy’ they might appear to you!).

Please get in touch with Dr Julie Scanlon on julie.scanlon@northumbria.ac.uk




Next week! Scottish Queer International Film Festival coming to Newcastle

Dear all,

Next week, the Scottish Queer International Film Festival is screening one of the films from their touring programme curated around the theme of Queer Women in Love:



Thu 3 Dec, 8pm, Tyneside Cinema: Break My Fall (Dir: Kanchi Wichmann, Country: UK, Year: 2011, 107 mins, Format: DVD)

“It’s the most honest, raw, lovingly crafted film of its kind to show up this year, and powerful enough to knock even the most stalwart viewer out of any sense of complacency.” – Afterellen

Liza is hovering precariously between change and self-destruction, between leaving her failing relationship with girlfriend Sally and finding success with their band, Blanket. Sally is working in an unfulfilling job and clinging to fantasies of a better life, ignoring the chaos around her. Their best friends are Vin, a rent boy who is secretly in love with Sally, and Jamie, who works nights at a gay cabaret bar and longs to find a nice man to settle down with. On the three days leading up to Liza’s 25th birthday, things finally come to a head and the four are plunged into an emotional meltdown.

Set on the pulsating streets of East London and with a soundtrack featuring stars of the UK independent music scene such as Micachu, Peggy Sue, and Scout Niblett.

You can watch the trailer here.

+ Discussion
The film will be followed by a discussion with Dr Julie Scanlon, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, Gender and Sexuality, and Dr Jacky Collins, Senior Lecturer in Film and TV.

£7 full price and £5 (concessions)

Scottish Queer International Film Festival – Queer Women in Love
The Scottish Queer International Film Festival took place for the first time in Glasgow in September 2015. You can find out more about them and their touring programme of Queer Women in Love here.

Women and Activism in the North East: reclaiming the past, mapping the present and projecting the future

Are you a woman living in the North East region who has been and/or is involved in activism? We invite you to join us and other women activists for a half-day workshop at Northumbria University on 5th July 2014 to discuss our histories, share our experiences, and plan for future activities.

Who are we and why women and activism?

We are a group of researchers from Northumbria University, keen to research the vibrant women’s activist scene in the North East. Women in our region have made important contributions to changing the face of politics and society by, for example, setting up Rape Crisis Centres and other services, influencing policy-makers and politicians, organising International Women’s Day events and numerous other activities. But women’s activism is sometimes overlooked or lost to history. We want to document, record and research what women in the NE have done over the past decades and are doing now to change our region for the better.

Where has this project come from?

In December 2013, we hosted an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of the most momentous and important actions of the Greenham Peace Camp in 1983. (You can find a short film made at that event here: http://youtu.be/fWEPk07WWM4). Women who participated were very enthusiastic about continuing and expanding the conversation about women’s activism. We want to design a research project which maps the recent history (say, since 1975) of women and activism in the North East, both in terms of activities taking place in the region but also the activities of local women’s actions outside the region. And we want to be guided by women activists who would like to work with us on this project.

The Workshop

To ensure that the project is relevant to women in the region, we’ll work together to scope out the broad shape of the project. We’ll also identify potential research partners including individuals who would be interested in becoming active members of the research team and being trained in basic research methods.

Get in touch!

If you have been an activist in the past or are involved in any kind of political, social or community action now, it would be great to share your thoughts with us and to hear ours in return. If you would like to participate in the workshop, please email: s.f.regan@northumbria.ac.uk and register your interest by Friday 6th June. We’ll be back in touch about venue and timing as soon as possible.

Please forward this message to others who might be interested. We look forward to hearing from and working with you as we develop this exciting new research project.

We are:

Carol Stephenson; Julie Scanlon; Karen Ross; Ruth Lewis; and Sue Regan

Gender in Popular Culture – call for monographs

Gender in Popular Culture

Library editors: Claire Nally and Angela Smith


We invite proposals for monographs to be included in this new library for I.B.Tauris.


The library is located within the visual culture list at I.B. Tauris, but has a number of clear links with other series and areas of study: film, television, art, cultural studies, history and politics, and thus would engage closely with other I.B.Tauris titles, whilst nonetheless differentiating itself in a number of ways (a number of our monographs represent the first theoretical analysis of their subject).

Whilst gender is a heavily theorised subject, our library focuses on the work of innovative scholarly practice so that in many ways the monographs we would hope to commission are the first of their kind. We anticipate monographs which would be of relevance to a wide variety of disciplines related by the common theme of gender.

The titles in the library are the work of both established and emerging academics in a variety of disciplines who are analysing gender in relatively unexplored areas. These innovative and avant-garde titles would enhance the existing catalogue of I.B. Tauris. Each monograph would be 70,000 words in length, and include a general introduction by the series editors to ensure that the links between the titles remain explicit.

Whilst being emphatically interdisciplinary, the ‘visual culture’ list allows for critical texts focusing on gender that would prove interesting to a wider range of readers in academia and beyond, and catering to an international audience. Recently accepted titles include studies of gender in TV news technology; masculinity and postfeminism; steampunk and gender; and representations of the single mother in popular cinema.

In the first instance, we invite proposals (to include a summary of the book’s aims and subject matter, chapter headings and an indication of readership) of about 500 words to be sent to both co-editors (claire.nally@northumbria.ac.uk and angela.smith@sunderland.ac.uk) by 1st July 2014.


Why Women Only?

A couple of us in the Gendered Subjects group are organising a series of screenings at Newcastle’s volunteer-run cinema, The Star and Shadow. The screening series is entitled ‘Lesbians on Screen: How far Have We Come?’ (see previous post on our blog here http://wp.me/p2eKCh-6r ). We decided to make the screenings as well the discussions and focus groups open to women only and have had the first of, no doubt, several queries as to ‘Why Women Only?’.  Here’s the email I have written in response:   

To answer your question, it might be useful to know the history of the project.  The screening series comes out of a workshop Jacky and I hosted at the North-East Feminist Gathering (www.nefeministgathering.com) in October 2012, which was a very successful DIY gathering in Newcastle organised by local women and was a women-only space.  One of the participants in our workshop suggested it would be great if there were a screening series of films focussed on representations of lesbians and an opportunity to discuss them.  It’s taken us a while to get some funding but this is a follow-on from the work we did in the workshop. 

Both of the North East Feminist Gatherings to date as well as our own workshop were incredibly positive spaces in which women felt able to voice experiences and opinions that research has often shown get stifled in the presence of men and that also shows how women speak and behave differently in mixed groups (Deborah Cameron’s book Man-Made Language is excellent on this).  More specifically my colleague Ruth Lewis, along with Elizabeth Sharp of Texas Tech University, undertook research on the North East Feminist Gathering itself.  You can see what women said about the importance of women-only space at the NEFG in a snapshot of their research in the Feminist Times: http://www.feministtimes.com/whats-so-safe-about-feminist-women-only-space/  The value that these women themselves have placed on such spaces has led us to keep these events women only in the spirit of the original workshop.    

Given that the topic is ‘lesbians on screen’, and potentially sensitive, we were keen that women feel as ‘safe’ as possible (to use the terms women used in the article above) whilst viewing and discussing the films afterwards in the post-film conversations.  In particular, lesbians very rarely get to ‘own’ the discourses/conversations that operate around representations of our own sexual identities.  We anticipate that the screenings will attract a good number of women who identify as lesbian (as well as other identifications), and that this ‘safety’ aspect of being in women-only space will appeal.    Rather than being divisive, a women-only space in this context can provide a positively partisan arena in which under-represented voices can be heard.  Our research from the focus groups will explore some of these issues in much more detail. 


LESBIANS ON SCREEN: HOW FAR HAVE WE COME? Film series at Star and Shadow Cinema




A series of classic and provocative films giving a taste of how lesbians have been represented on the big screen from 1968 to the present.  The audience is warmly invited to stay for post-film discussions considering how far we have come with representing lesbians on screen.  Have we made progress?


Organisers: Dr Jacky Collins and Dr Julie Scanlon from Northumbria University.  There will be a brief introduction to each film and opportunity for discussion after the films.  The screenings and discussions are for WOMEN ONLY – ALL WOMEN WELCOME.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Film: The Killing Of Sister George (1968)

7:30 p.m

Thursday 22 May 2014

Film: Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

7:30 p.m.


Thursday 5 June 2014

Film: Lianna (1983)

7:30 p.m.


Thursday 12 June 2014

Film: Bound (1996)

7:30 p.m.


Wednesday 2 July 2014

Film: Ghosted (2009)

7:30 p.m.


There will be a series of focus groups running before and throughout the series.  Any woman interested in participating in the focus groups please contact julie.scanlon@northumbria.ac.uk and jackie.collins@northumbria.ac.uk or via Twitter on @subjectgender to find out more.  ALL WOMEN welcome.  


Nasty Girls – A Review of Gillian Flynn’s fiction

Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn. 2012. Crown Publishers, New York, pp.432. $25 hardback, £7.99, $14 paperback.

Dark Places, Gillian Flynn. 2009. Crown Publishers, New York, pp.368. $25 hardback, £7.99, $14 paperback.

Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn. 2006. Crown Publishers, New York, pp.272.  $25 hardback, £7.99, $14 paperback.

Review by Rosie White, Northumbria University

Gillian Flynn’s fiction is a popular phenomenon.  Her third novel, Gone Girl (2012) has sold more than two million copies worldwide and she is currently writing the screenplay for the film version.  Her second novel, Dark Places, has already been made into a film starring Charlize Theron as the survivor of a multiple murder.[i]  Flynn’s work on dysfunctional relationships in the American Midwest has received criticism for its alleged misogyny.  In a Guardian interview the author defends her depiction of a manipulative female character in Gone Girl, arguing that to see feminist fiction as only portraying positive images of women ‘puts a very small window on what feminism is …  Is it really only girl power, and you-go-girl, and empower yourself, and be the best you can be?  For me it’s also the ability to have women who are bad characters…’[ii]  Certainly Flynn’s protagonists are not unequivocal role models. 

In Gillian Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects (2006), Camille Preaker is a reporter on the Chicago Daily Post sent back to her home town to do a story on the murders of two young women.  Strained relations with her privileged and dysfunctional family are embodied through Camille’s self-harm.  An early fetish for compulsive writing turns into cutting words on her own skin after the death of her sister.  Narrating in the clipped tones of first person hardboiled detective fiction, Camille is covered with words that flare up at critical moments as the novel proceeds:  ‘I am a cutter, you see.  Also a snipper, a slicer, a jabber.  I am a very special case.  I have a purpose.  My skin, you see, screams.  It’s covered with words – cook, cupcake, kitty, curls – as if a knife-wielding first-grader learned to write on my flesh’.  While this first novel is sometimes clunky in its plotting and characterization it demonstrates Flynn’s literary ambition.  This flawed protagonist whose problems are literally written on her body flags up a fascination with intertextuality and metafiction which returns most fully in Gone Girl.

Dark Places (2009), Flynn’s second novel, is a study of how the past and present inform each other. The narrative shifting between different narrators telling the story of events leading up to the murder of three members of the Day family, and the attempt by Libby Day, the only surviving daughter, to find out what happened decades later.  The novel plays with its reader, as we follow Libby through a ‘truth or dare’ process in which she is the reluctant detective.  Initially, at least, Libby is not on a mission to find the truth about the awful events that have robbed her of her family; she takes on the role of investigator as a means of making enough money to get by.  Like Camille, Libby is not heroic; she is (perhaps understandably) wary of other people, drinking heavily and avoiding gainful employment as she lives on the proceeds of charitable donations, until her money runs out and she finds a new income by selling her story to a group of fanatical misfits obsessed with the Day killings.  The novel maps an America breaking under the impact of financial crisis.  This is the small-town Midwest, riddled with poverty, rumour, and urban myths about Satanism and paedophilia.  Dark Places is fully aware of its generic heritage in detective fiction and true crime narratives, evincing a stripped-down, hollowed-out vision of rural America familiar from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966) and the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men (2007).  Unlike these examples, however, Flynn’s focus is firmly on the female protagonists and the effects of financial crises on women in small-town America.  The depiction of Patty Day, Libby’s mother, in the weeks before her death reveals a woman pushed beyond human endurance by poverty, isolation and desperation.  She is marooned on a failing farm with mounting debts and not enough money to pay the rent or feed her children: ‘They ate soup all through the winter, Patty keeping giant vats of it in the freezer-locker in the garage.  They usually ran out right around the end of February.  February was the worst month.’  As with Sharp Objects, the revelations about who killed whom and why had the power to genuinely surprise this reader.

In Gone Girl, Flynn moves away from detective fiction into much more muddy territory.  This is the novel which has attracted accusations of misogyny for its depiction of a woman who is psychotic in her compulsion to manipulate those around her, including the reader.  Some of the anger about Flynn’s book may be fuelled by the games it plays with narration.  For a popular novel it is remarkably tricksy, playing on generic styles of fiction as well as complex plotting.  It is a page-turner in the best sense; while one may question the morality of Flynn’s protagonists, one cannot question the novel’s ability to hold the reader to the last.  The story follows the disappearance of Amy Elliott (the ‘gone girl’ of the title) and the subsequent media frenzy surrounding Dan Elliott, her husband, who is suspected of her murder.  Both Dan and Amy give their version of events and neither is a trustworthy narrator; they are self-absorbed, arrogant and economical with the truth.  Most of all, they are both writers.  Amy writes quizzes for the popular press while Dan lists ideas for various novels on his computer and teaches literary journalism at a local college.  As in Dark Places the financial downturn is central to the plot; the Elliotts have until recently led a privileged life in New York, largely funded by the proceeds of a series of children’s books about ‘Amazing Amy’, written by Amy’s parents and featuring a fictionalized version of her childhood.  As the novel opens Dan has been sacked from his job with a New York literary magazine and Amy’s parents have gone broke, forcing the Elliotts to return to Dan’s home town, North Carthage, Missouri.  The classical name is ironic, as Amy hates this retreat to the provinces, scorning the small town and its small communities.  The stage is set for a tragic denoument but the novel and its protagonists continually confound this expectation. This is tragedy on a smaller scale, fuelled by thwarted ambition and narcissism.   Some of the most resonant passages describe a deserted shopping centre.

The Riverway Mall sits at the centre of North Carthage’s economy for a quarter of a century.  Built in the boom time of the 1980s it employed a fifth of the local population.  Nick remembers the family trip to see the official opening ceremony:

… we got to take in the full scope of the Event: the impatient crowd, leaning collectively from one foot to another; the mayor atop a red-white-and-blue dias; the booming words – pride, growth, prosperity, success – rolling over us, soldiers on the battlefield of consumerism, armed with vinyl-covered checkbooks and quilted handbags.  And the doors opening.  And the rush into the air-conditioning, the Musak, the smiling salespeople who were our neighbors. 

Nick’s mother has a job at the Mall until it goes bust, like other local industry, overtaken by bigger, slicker, more assiduously computerized dreams of the future.  Flynn offers an evocative account of an America not just falling off the economic merry-go-round but also losing its capacity to imagine itself as a world power.  This is an American landscape that has been outsourced and downsized.

As the search for Amy continues Nick is convinced by a group of locals to join them on a late-night trip to the deserted mall, now occupied by homeless people and drug dealers.  The Riverway Mall has become a repository of American nightmares rather than the American dream:

I’d expected the mall smell as we entered: that temperature-controlled hollowness.  Instead, I smelled old grass and dirt, the scent of the outdoors inside, where it had no place being.  The building was heavy-hot, almost fuzzy, like the inside of a mattress.  Three of us had giant camping flashlights, the glow illuminating jarring images:  It was suburbia, post-comet, post-zombie, post-humanity.  A set of muddy shopping-cart tracks looped crazily along the white flooring.  A raccoon chewed on a dog treat in the entry to a women’s bathroom, his eyes flashing like dimes.

It is not surprising that the novels are informed as much by popular film and television as by their literary antecedents; Flynn worked as a journalist on Entertainment Weekly.  Like Nick she wrote about popular culture for a Manhattan-based periodical, and like him she was laid off as part of belt-tightening in the culture industries.  Unlike Nick Elliott, however, Flynn had just published her second novel and the redundancy in 2009 appears to have added to the strength of her third novel, a massive popular hit.   Gillian Flynn’s background in the entertainment industry – she interviewed film directors and actors – informs some of the most acute aspects of Gone Girl, where Nick has to deal with the media and fails to convince in the role of grieving husband.  Flynn herself is adept at handling marketing and press.  In the postscript to Gone Girl she is asked about the ‘Cool Girl’ figure that Amy Elliott describes, women who pretend to be whatever a man wants:

To pretend to be today’s ‘Cool Girl’ is just as restrictive and confining as it was for women back in the 1950s who were forced into the ‘Happy Homemaker’ role.  It’s sad, though, since today we actually have the choice to be who we are – and we’re still not making that choice.  We’re still too often moulding ourselves into what we believe will be pleasing to men.

This is a pre-emptive response to the accusations of misogyny – many of which focus on a fake rape story in Gone Girl.  Yet after a novel which is so carefully constructed, so playful in its deployment of character and narrative, how can one be convinced by the voice of the author?  In a strange way Flynn is (no doubt self-consciously) enacting Barthes’ ‘death of the author’ by presenting her readers with a novel that repeatedly asks you to question all that you know.  As unreliable narrator is layered over unreliable narrative, Gone Girl peels back readers’ belief in any truth.  Is this postfeminist fiction or simply fiction which refuses to take any political truths as read?

[i] Oliver Burkeman, ‘Gillian Flynn on her bestseller Gone Girl and accusations of misogyny’, The Guardian, 1st May 2013, available online at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/may/01/gillian-flynn-bestseller-gone-girl-misogyny (accessed 1st September 2013).

[ii] Ibid.



Rosie White is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, Theory and Popular Culture at Northumbria University, UK.  Her research interests include the novels of Michele Roberts, violent women in popular fiction, film and television, and representations of women spies in popular culture.  Her book, Violent Femmes: Women as Spies in Popular Culture was published by Routledge in 2008 and she is currently developing a monograph on women and television comedy for IB Tauris.