Remembering My Hat

3rd August 2016

EuroBiReCon16: Workshop on ageing

This is some notes from a workshop that I co-organised with Sue George and Nickie Roome, as promised to the participants. Our abstract said:

Growing older and being bisexual

What is it like to grow older as a bisexual person? What issues and needs are likely to become more important? How can bisexual and LGBTQ communities be more inclusive of older people? How can research best serve the needs of older bisexual people? This open discussion session will discuss these and other questions related to bisexual ageing. People of all ages are welcome to attend but those who feel these questions have personal relevance are especially welcome. The facilitators of this session are: Sue George, long-time bisexual activist and author of Women and Bisexuality, Nickie Roome, founder of the UK’s first group for older bisexual people and Rebecca Jones who researches and campaigns around ageing and bisexuality.



(cc) photoscarce

It was great to have a room full of people all wanting to discuss ageing – about 25 people in total, I think. We started off with some introductions from Sue, Nickie and me, about why we had wanted to run this workshop. Then we generated some possible topics to discuss and each person voted for their favourite. There were two topics that only one person wanted to talk about (‘being ‘younger’ older’ and ‘working with existing organisations for older people’) so those people chose a second topic. This left us with four topics:

  • Making bi space more age-inclusive
  • Identity and history
  • Sexuality, sex and ageing
  • Inter-generational issues

I took some brief notes while listening in on the groups, and also as each group fed back to the whole group. But if anyone who was in one of the groups would like to add more detail so we have a better record, that would be great – just let me know.

Making bi space more age-inclusive: This group talked about recognising the resources that older bisexual people can offer to bisexual communities and individuals. These resources include both personal experience gained through having lived a relatively long time and also, sometimes, long experience of activism and organising community events. This group also talked about the importance of recognising and acknowledging different choices of identity labels.

Identity and history: This group talked about painful personal experiences of their bisexuality not being accepted by others. They commented that it seemed to be very different for (some) young women now, with ‘bi-curious’ and similar identities seeming to be much more common. They noted that this new acceptability of female bisexuality is often very sexist and thought that we would really know that bisexuality had become acceptable once more men felt able to claim it.

Sexuality, sex and ageing: This group discussed the invisibility and taboos around later life sexuality and sexual activity. They felt that this did harm to both ageing individuals and to younger people and communities more widely. They also talked about significant age differences between partners seeming to become more taboo in later adult life, and about the possibility of intimacy becoming more important than sex for some people. They also discussed coming out in later life, dating apps and the impact of parenting on sexuality.

Inter-generational issues: This group started off by discussing some hurtful personal experiences of being excluded from an LGBT group on the grounds of age, because older bisexual men were seen as sexually predatory. It then went on to talk about experiences of ageism in both directions – from older people towards younger as well as vice versa. The group talked about the way in which someone’s ‘length of being out’ age may not match their chronological age. It suggested running workshops on inter-generational issues at future BiCons and other bi gatherings.


smaller sunset amsterdam

“Sunset over Amsterdam” (cc) by Peter Eijkman


12th March 2015

Beyond Male Role Models? Gender identities and work with young men. End-of-award conference

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My usual partial and incomplete liveblog from a conference. My own reaction in square brackets.

Kate Mulley

Director of Policy and Campaigns, Action for Children (Joint project between AfC and OU)

This group of young men is invisible to policy, except as villains.

What sold the project to them:

  • Understanding better something that is usually thought about in a stereotypical way
  • making unheard voices heard
  • fitted their strength-based approach – avoiding deficit models (e.g. support that lone dads give their kids)
  • chance to use research in inform policy and practice

Martin Robb – PI

Relationship with Action for Children has been vital – involved in drawing up the bid as well as once fieldwork. Also ‘Working with Men’ group.

Background rationale for project:

‘Male role model’ discourse has become a kind of taken-for-granted explanation and solution to the ‘problem’ of boys and young men. Problem boys lack good male role models (absent dads) and the solution is supplying alternative good male role models

  • Little evidence to support this. Some on education – does the gender of the teacher matter? Answer: can’t tell – too complex an issue.
  • What about the role of women in young men and boys’ lives?
  • Isn’t that a bit reified about gender?
  • What do these young men and boys think about these issues?


(cc) Frank M. Raflk

Mike Ward – Researcher

Individual and group interviews with 93 people at Action for Children and Working with Men projects, UK-wide, range of locations, rural and urban

  • 50 young men
  • 14 young women
  • 12 male staff
  • 17 female staff

Projects recruited from:

  • Young offenders
  • care leavers
  • YP with additional needs
  • young carers
  • care council (young Insepctors)
  • respite centres
  • young fathers mentor scheme


  • Family both a source of support and trouble
  • Many have strong relationship with mothers and grandmothers but ambivalent ones with fathers and step-dads
  • Becoming a father often a catalyst for transition to a more ‘responsible’ masculine identity [supports strength-based approach, not deficit in relation to yound dads].
  • Locality plays a huge role in shaping masculine identities for young man
  • ‘at risk’ young men often involved in hypermasculine cultures
  • Routes to ‘safer’ masculine identities varied by location – west of Scotland often fatherhood and work (traditional working-class masculine jobs) whereas in London it was much more through education.

Sandy Ruxton – Consultant on project

Support services provide safe spaces to help make the transition to a less risky masculine identity. Avoids being on the street, being stopped by the police or engaging with other young men they wanted to avoid. Many of the young men were actually very underconfident about engaging with the outside world.

Practical activities were helpful to building relationships (round the Pool table) or walking and talking.

Qs didn’t mention ‘male role models’ but some young men and staff did use the term but they weren’t clear as what it meant – people close to them but also people they looked up to and didn’t know.

They didn’t look up to ‘celebrity’ role models

The people they meant by role models were more like mentor or guides – people who helped them negotiate and co-construct new identities and futures. Not a passive transmission of values/masculinity (as ‘role model’ implies) something much more active and dynamic. Women were really important in this.

Sense of shared experience and social background between young men and staff was very valuable for some (especially in the west of Scotland projects). Class and race especially (although not named by participants as this).

Brigid Featherstone – Co-I

The young men valued personal qualities and commitment of staff above gender or other social identities.

Had a keen sense of genuine care from workers (and other workers who were just ‘doing it for the money’). Valued respect, trust, consistency, and commitment highly too.

Really clearly that authoritarian masculinity doesn’t work. Hate being told what to do. That’s a really hard task for workers because you have to not be authoritarian but also help them not do really stupid things! ‘Troops for teachers’ initiative not liked – ‘that won’t work with us’.

Lives very precarious – very easily pushed off their trajectory of building the life they wanted. Very poor, very low chance of getting work, benefits cut etc.

(We used to talk about race, ethnicity and class, now we talk about ‘stories’!)

‘Boys need positive male role models’ is lazy thinking

When young men come to services, it is often because they are seeking to make the transition to safer adult masculine idendities and their asprirations (job, home, family) are similar to other young people.

Services don’t need to have male workers to be able to work with young men (or young women). Gender is not as important as care, trust and consistency.

Gender is still hugely important to young men’s lives and being able to identify with staff along lines of gender, ethnicity and class is also often helpful.

Steve Hicks, Uni of Manchester – Steering Group member

Responding to the project findings.

Gender role models can be a smoke-screen – allows you to justify cutting back the Welfare State. Relationships with fathers is what really matter, so we don’t need all these expensive support services.

Good mums, bad dads dichotomy. What’s that doing and where’s it going? What about extended family and friends too?

Irony of being perceived as too authoritarian as a social worker when SWers currently being criticised for being insufficiently authoritative

Hypermasculinity in other arenas of life too, like the House of Commons! It’s not just a working-class phenomenon.

Black young men in this study described a lot of everyday harassment which limited their options very profoundly. Restricted the subject-positions they could access. Doesn’t determine – they had some very creative strategies for resisting racism and questioning racial identities.

Some young women also drawing on masculine identities – trans, genderqueer and questioning [+ tomboy identities or butch?]

Methodological Qs:

  • How do we know when gender is going on in a situation or a piece of talk? Lots of answers to this are possible! Big can of worms. [I want to know more about how the team are going to handle that].
  • Why is gender only invoked as a problem in relation to these young men? Gender doesn’t cause things. ‘It was gender wot done it’ is not an adequate answer.

22nd October 2013

(a)Dressing the Ageing Demographic seminar: Part 1

Last Friday I went to a seminar at the Royal College of Art about clothes and growing older. It was fantastic. Really stimulating and interesting, and even more fun that usual in the coffee breaks noticing what everyone was wearing! I met up with some people I already knew and am always glad to see and also got to know some new ones, including the journalist who writes the Guardian’s Invisible Woman blog about clothing, body image and getting older. I also admired a very beautiful and stylish older women and said to someone else that I aspired to look like her in 40 years time. Then I discovered she was, in fact, a model (and still working as such, I think) and decided that was probably an unrealistic hope.

What follows is my usual idiosyncratic and incomplete notes from the day, with my own additional thoughts in square brackets.

(cc) Brian J Matis

Julia Twigg

Fashion and Age: Dres, the Body and Later Life

There’s a persistent normative age ordering of clothes, especially for women. Largely expressed negatively – what is not suitable for someone as they grow older

–        More covered up, higher necks, longer skirts, looser cut

–        Darker, duller colours

–        Sober self-effacing, avoiding claims to sexual attention

Can see this in those Scandinavian life stage pictures, as well as nowadays.

But these cultural factors are also in interplay with changes in the body

SizeUK did a literal ‘shape of the nation’ survey. New shape much more realistic for older women. Used by some retailers.

JT drawing on Barnard on ways gender and class are seen as natural but actually ideological, to theorise dress as also ideological.

There’s a dominant cultural narrative that this age ordering is gone or is going or has lessened. ‘60 is the new 40’. In academia sometimes called the reconstitution of ageing thesis. Older people argued to now be nearer the mainstream than they used to be. New pattern of the life course – extended mid-life up to 4th Age. More undifferentiated middle years.

Showed that Posy Simmons cartoon of ‘A lifetime of babywear: The Seven Ages of Man’ – wearing teeshirt and shorts at all life stages.

Making the point that men’s clothes don’t change across the lifecourse. But you can also see in the cartoon the way that clothes are tweaked by clothes designers to make the same garment age-appropriate – elasticated waists at youngest and oldest ages, not in mid-life

So does age ordering still operate?

Women in JT’s study were aware of age ordering and largely obeyed it – stressed need for caution, avoiding exposing body, over young or girly styles, frilly clothes, anything eye-catching.

‘The wardrobe moment’ when women feel they can no longer wear a particular thing [I had one of those when I was coming up to 40. Not so much since but that could be because I’ve adapted my wardrobe in accordance with age orderings?]

Sense of exile from cultural practices of feminity, or feminity itself

But also evidence of change. Felt wore very different clothes from their mothers. Keen to avoid drab, chintz and crimplene especially!

Clothing retailers also believe things have changed. Asda – 30 yrs ago people would switch to ‘classic’ clothing at a life point, no more. Older women now wear brighter, fresher colours. Ranges for older women marked by use of strong clear colours. E.g. celebs like Mary Berry

Larger retail context to this – arrival of cheap Fast Fashion – late 20th and 21st C. True democratisation of fashion – greater than 19th C or mid 20th C one, arguably. People shop more often – over 75s now shop for clothes as often as teens and twenties in e. 1960s. Clothes are cheaper, still remain accessible if on lowish income in later life.

‘Moving Younger’. Clothes as aspirational – dream of idealised self, younger, thinner, richer, smarter. Consumption of clothes allows this. So retailers persistently portray their clothes as aimed at a younger market than they know their customers actually are.

Style diffusion. Youth has replaced class as the engine for style diffusion. No longer introduced by elites and then abandoned by them as taken up by lower classes. Not so much that older people are dressing younger, but that styles are diffusing older – centre of fashionability is youth, edges is older.

Age norms and age ordering still exist. Continue to encode ageist meanings

But also clear evidence for change – norms are shifting. Fashion industry is playing a part in this shift.


These covered up styles for older women is because of stigmatisation and fear of older bodies

Rise of ‘shapewear’ – new forms of corsetry. Can now get it extending to arms!

JT: one respondent felt could do longer wear girly styles she liked, but always wore coloured, girly underwear as form of secret resistance.

12th July 2012

British Society of Gerontology conference 2012: Part 1

Here are some more personal notes from a conference. As ever, they are in no sense a representation of everything that was said, just some of the things that struck me as interesting or connected with my own work. Things that are my thoughts rather than what other people said are in square brackets. The conference is the:

British Society of Gerontology

41st Annual Conference

University of Keele

10th-12th July 2012 

The conference got off to a great start for me when my fellow-CABS member, ex-colleague, ex-PhD supervisor and, I hope I do not presume too much to say, friend, Bill Bytheway was presented with the BSG’s Outstanding Achievement Award for his contribution to British gerontology. I’ve written more about that over here on the CABS blog. But it made a very happy start to the conference for me.

More note form from now on:

Opening Plenary

Prof Toni Calasanti

Virginia Tech, USA

Different or unequal? Considering power relations

Existing critiques of ‘successful’ ageing [Katz, Minkler and Holstein, all the stuff I wrote about in K319 LG2 final section] . What happens if you put these critiques together with gender analysis?

Sexualised vulnerable older women in Life Alert ads (call buttons)

Youth based standards of sex. Seeking to show OP have sex too or something ‘just as good’ e.g. non-PIV but still sex. This retains insidious ageism.

Why not see elders’ sex as more valuable? Link w reproduction is broken anyway. More sensual? More pleasure-seeking?

Let old people be old and that be valuable.

Chris Gilleard

Sex in later life: From sex to salvation

Non-sexual nature of later life used to be morally virtuous, because sex was sinful. So a virtuous old age was non-sexual. Inversion of nowadays.

Sexual activity as cause of ageing – using up moisture and heat. Hippocratic theory of humours. Sex is hot and wet (blood and air), ageing is dry and cold (black bile and earth). Continuing influence into the medieval period and up to 17th C

Then 17th C onwards, sex less sinful and less harmful

Harvey’s circulation of blood shows that blood is not used up but continuously circulated so impacts on ideas of sex in old age.

But old ideas continued anyway.

18th C physiology developed, awareness of glands – realisation that sexual activity can be separated from reproduction and that sexual fluids do things other than aid reproduction.

19th C increased regulation of sex. But age related decline in sexual function is noted but not mandated

Lots of interest at turn of twentieth century and early twentieth C in prolonging youth through organotherapy, rejuvenation techniques [like now anti-ageing medicine]

Audience member: presentation blind to gender – it was all about men

CG: could have talked about extract of ova for women in 20th C but before that it was all focused on men.

Ann O’Hanlon

Dundalk, Ireland

Exploring and measuring age-friendliness amongst older people.

Age friendly communities. Dundalk was one of the 35 cities and towns in the 2004 WHO study

Discussion: Ann O’Hanlon’s question: why hasn’t the older people’s movement taken off in the way that feminism did?

Me: because it’s not grass-roots.

Audience member: because of internalised ageism

[I thought: but feminism was partly about excavating internalised sexism through consciousness raising – OP could do that]

Audience member: Group of 50 older feminists, met recently to apply CR techniques to own internalised ageism. But what they are focusing on is supporting one another, not changing the world. Is this something to do with ageing [No! Not if, by that, you mean something inherent to the ageing process]

[Should the question actually be ‘why did the feminist movement succeed (in some ways though obviously not all), when black rights did less well (although don’t forget end of segregation in US), class struggle died with Thatcher / the end of communism in Europe, and other social movements never got off the ground?

What happened to the grey panthers?

There are, at least, activist groups of disabled people.

It is just because the historical moment when movements around identities could make significant impact has passed, because we’ve all (some of us) got so post-modern and fractured in our identities?]

Cassandra Phoenix

Pennisula College

Research design: Attend people’s usual exercise session, take a photo, download to iPad, immediately discuss pictures during interview.

This design proved impractical – turned into too much discussion of the quality of the photos + post exercising participants didn’t want to be interviewed – tired!

So instead researchers selected 8-10 photos and emailed them – look at photos, answer question ‘what is it like to [insert sport]’ then some more prompting questions, including  prompted them to talk about five senses. So got written data in the end.

People didn’t comment on the images very much – tended to do so at end. Whereas researchers intended it to be photo-elicitation. Did caption some photos – doesn’t seem very phenomenological. But actually quite telling, like small stories in identity construction. Captions often about the body rather than life through the body

Some people made references to the pictures in their writing.

Q ‘what it is like to’ was understood as ‘why do you like?’

12th April 2011

Fiction and the cultural mediation of ageing: Final part (I promise)

Later, I gave a paper in a panel on narrativity and non-normativity and only seem to have made notes on one of the other papers:

The successful failure of narrative in Lisa Genova’s Still Alice

Sarah Falcus

Novel about psycho-linguistics prof who gets early onset dementia [want to read this one too]

(cc) quimby

‘Everything she was was about words’, one of first words she can’t remember is ‘lexicon’. Metafictional concerns in the novel. 3rd person narra but privileges PWD’s point of view. This conflicts somewhat with coherence and chronology demanded by novel form. (not experimental text, fairly trad)

Reader too experience something of Alice’s experience but not to get lost in it, as Alice is lost. Her missing words are also absent from the text, at the beginningn of novel. People’s names too ‘that man’ as she can’t remember her hus. Repeated sentences and paras. Don’t know some things because she doesn’t.

Alice is only 49 at onset – resists association of dementia with ageing. Activities of Daily Living questionnaire – is incontinence because of dementia or because of ageing? But pre diagnosis, attributes her anxiety, confusion, memory loss to menopause = natural v. monster of dementia

Nearly all fiction about ageing contains a ‘mirror-moment’ (Kathleen Woodward)

[Notes definitely getting more sparce as I got more tired]

Naomi Richards from the Look at Me project

Putting older women in the picture

Phototherapy. Working with Rosie Martin, who worked with Jo Spence in 1980s to create phototherapy! As before, using photography to heal, beyond the family album, dressing up.

Aged 47-60 women. 5 full days over 4 week period. Photo diaries to familiarize with camera, over one week. And to help them think visually. Not as a prompt to talk, they were as interested in the product as the process, unlike traditional creative methodolgies in social science which tend to focus on the process [and particularly the talk about the process] [very interesting. Think some more about the implications of this]. Re-enactment session on theme ‘transformation’ transformative visual narrative using props.

One participant’s theme was Gaga to Lady Gaga.

Photos within her grasp rather than the spectre over her shoulder [kind of literal/metaphorical thinking I’m not good at but really like. Seeing something that is literally true as well as metaphorically].

Marta Miquel-Baldellou, Univ of Lleida

From pathology to invisibility: the discourse of ageing in vampire ficture

Vampires don’t show their age and don’t age. Vampires first in fiction looked old. No longer. Repulsive, now generally attractive. Bram Stoker, foreign, aristocratic and old. Anne Rice Interview with the Vampire started trend of young vampires, and introduced vampire children. Also first to be sympathetic

Aged vampires in Vict fiction as sign of difference.As became younger, became more sympathetic, true hero of the novel. Appears in mirrors in modern novels [not in the novels I’ve read]

Fiction and the cultural mediation of ageing: Part 2

Barbara Czarniawska, Univ of Gothenburg

Narrative medicine: or why doctors do not like to listen to the stories of older patients.

Narr medicine, not just about patient narratives of illness/experience, also about patients writing as part of their therapy, medics stories about patients and about themselves.

Arthur Frank ‘illness is an occasion for autobiog’ – more time, more need. [Is illness particularly an occasion for autobiography? Depends on the sort of illness. Flu is not an occasion for autobiography. Was Frank referring to chronic illness? I ought to read Frank again]

Robertson Davies 1994, The Cunning Man, another recommended book.

RD Summarizing the WHO definition of ‘health’ as ‘health is when nothing hurts very much’ [This is not the WHO definition but I quite like it as an aphorism – it’s quite realistic, workable and everyday, rather than the unachievableness of the WHO definition. And it makes it clear that disability is not ill-health. Although what about disabilities which involve chronic pain? Would someone describe themselves as healthy but in pain? Seems possible that they might. And it also falls down a bit because you may not be in pain with a blood clot that will kill you, but you’re not healthy (are you?)]

Audience comment after: this definition is also good in relation to ageing – more realistic that positive ageing agenda – ‘if your body is as much like a young person’s as possible’ [that’s my phrase/critique]

(cc) nursing pins

Was the cunning man:

–       a doctor from the past, before evidence-based medicine and standardization?

–       or from the future with the growth of holistic and alternative medicine?

–       just a patient’s dream, never existed?

Annemarie Mol (2008) The logic of care. Philosopher contrasting logic of choice (customer/citizen) v logic of care (patient, albeit active).

Audience comment: both are available to medics in care settings, they chose which one they draw on according to discursive purposes [does it make a diff if you call it a logic, rather than a discourse? I think it does. Discourse emphasizes variability, logic suggests discrete system. Interpretative repertoire, of course, is supposed to indicate even higher degree of variability]

Not everybody wants to tell stories about their experience. Shouldn’t become a new imperative (no danger of that in medicine. Might be in management)

Nurses’ handover abolished in some hosps – loss of a storytelling opportunity for nurses.

Then I chaired a panel on Fictional stategies and metaphors

Joan Walker, Loughborough

Love and relationships over 65, do comtemporary  british novels reflect the new reality?

Non-fiction since 1972 de Beauvoir Coming of Age, has known that older women have sex and relationships. Gerontology textbooks routinely acknowledge this now. But contemporary novels don’t seem to know this.

Alison Lurie ‘Foreign Affairs’ 1984 novel

Covers of novels about 65+ women’s relationships don’t show the women, have abstract design, objects, cartoons, younger woman shown.

Elena Bendien, Utrecht

A metaphor for ageing: shrinking

Dutch writer, not trans eng Inez van Dullemen ‘past is dead’ Vroeger is dood’, older woman (born 1920s?) still writing.

Metaphor of ‘shrinking’ is a key one in writing about ageing, also in policy – shrinking resources/social contact/shrinking workforce.

Is a spatial metaphor – reduction, contraction, drying out, loss of moisture and volume. Etmology [in Dutch? Or also in English?] shrinking like a snail going back into its shell – snail isn’t reduced by shrinking, just going home!

(cc) daveograve

OP’s bodies often described as shriveled, shrunken. Contracting is not about loss, it’s about making more dense. Signif for thinking about ageing.

Zoe Brennan, UWE

Fictional strategies for representing the older woman as fully human: reclaiming the everyday.

(in novels)

Make the older woman the central character


1)    inspirational, extraordinary female characters. Smash preconceptions about what older women are like e.g. Happy Ever After Jennie Diskie, has rela with much younger man, but then leaves him to go off and travel round the world. Rhode Island Blues, Fay Weldon, much quoted this conf. Challenge the idea that character is set by the time you are old. Show people developing and changing. Complex

2)    Re-evalutes the day-to-day: May Sarton Spinster, Barbara Pym – not remarkable charcters. Don’t do remarkable things, live everyday lives as you might expect for older people – visit family, cook, have hobbies. Activities not dismissed as time-filling – absorbing. (hobby as dismissive term)

3)    Angry texts, texts that rage. Bodies that don’t work. Texts about embodiment. May Sarton As we are now Frustration, society makes it worse. Ist person narrator is a powerful way of doing this, as Carrie in As we are now – can see her decline through her own journal writing. [read this! Has been on my (metaphorical) ‘novels to read’ longlist for years – move it to shortlist!]

12th January 2011

Old year and new year themes

2010 was the year when I kept thinking about what it was like to imagine yourself growing older.

At the beginning of the year I organised a seminar in the CABS/CPA methodology series on ‘Imagining Futures’. This looked at the methodological, theoretical and ethical implications of asking people to imagine later life and ageing. Later in the year I did some research at BiCon 2010 when I asked bi-identified people to imagine their own ageing and later life (article coming out in the Journal of Bisexuality later this year. Also a chapter that I haven’t written yet for a friend’s book). For K319, I wrote a section of a unit about imagining growing old and just before Christmas I wrote an accompanying chapter for the K319 Reader.

It feels as if this focus came from me being extremely strategic and pragmatic about getting the most bang for my limited-working-hours buck. I thought ‘I need a new piece of research that I can do without getting major funding. What I’d really like to do is talk to older people who have some relationship to the identity ‘bisexual’. But I’d need funding to recruit them because I don’t know many older bi people, and I’d probably want to do interviews and that means lots of money to get them transcribed. But I do know lots of young and middle-aged bi people and I could ask them how they imagine their own old age. Why don’t I do focus groups at BiCon?’  From that, the CABS and K319 work felt like opportunistic piggy-backing on that idea.

But the other day I noticed this picture which I always have up on my office wall:

It’s by Simon Mooney and is called ‘Mah Jong Singers’ and I think it belongs to the Bradford Industrial Museum.

I was sent it in about 1994 and I immediately saw it as a reassuing vision of my own later life. I imagine they are singing in three-part harmony and I liked the idea that I could still go on singing properly, even in the likely absence of  men to sing tenor and bass, given women’s relative longevity. I like the female sociality it seems to suggest, including their friend sitting in the corner looking interested, even though she isn’t singing. I imagine that when they have had enough singing they are going to sit down to a nice cup of tea and some cake, and laugh and gossip. I like the laundry hanging about their heads, integrating the essential domesticities of life with more frivolous pleasures. I love the roomscape which, I am quite sure, is the back room of a northern English terrace, window to back yard and kitchen off to the left, hall and front room off to right.

I like the way that academic themes and foci develop without me entirely planning them. I like the way that some of them turn out to have long roots that I had forgotten.

I’ve a feeling that the focus for 2011 might be life courses, which was there as a secondary and intertwined theme in 2010, but feels as if I still have a lot of work to do. But it might not be. Maybe 2011 will be the year I start thinking academically about singing in later life!  (The hard thinking about domesticity is already being done for me by Rachel Scicluna’s fascinating work about older lesbians and kitchens).

14th September 2009

Surprise! Domestic violence still gendered

I’ve just read this new piece of research on the gendered nature of domestic violence within heterosexual relationships:

Marianne Hester (2009) Who does what to whom? Gender and domestic violence perpetrators Bristol: University of Bristol and Northern Rock Foundation

It’s basically confirming what Women’s Aid have been saying for years; that women may sometimes perpetrate domestic violence against men, but it’s not the same. The violence is typically not as bad, it’s much more likely to be a single incident rather than repeat incidents, it’s not part of a pattern of coercion and control. Depressingly, she finds that women were three times as likely to be arrested as men, despite the fact that the main form of abuse women used was verbal abuse.

I recommend having a look at it, if you’re at all interested in these topics. It’s reasonably clearly written, only 19 pages, available as a pdf, and, for OU colleagues always on the look out for case study material, it contains several useful case studies.

Things that struck me about the findings include:

She found that over the course of her longitudinal study (2001 – 2007) the police became more likely to check whether they had identified the correct person as the perpetrator when the woman was originally identified as such. Some police appeared to be looking at the context and longer term pattern of violence and using that to identify a primary aggressor (or an initiator and a retaliator). I find this encouraging. It sometimes feels as if the new pressure to provide gender-neutral services means that all the feminist insights of the last 40 years of DV campaigning are being lost. This counterbalances my pessimism.

One of the case studies concerns a woman victim whose children had been removed by social services to live with their grandparents. She was reported to have said that

She doesn’t always ring the police because Social Services have told her if she has more domestics she won’t ever get her children back

I would be willing to bet a small sum that that’s not actually what the social worker said (at least, I very much hope not!). I imagine that they said something along the lines that the children were not safe because of her partner’s violence and that unless she could protect them from him, they wouldn’t be placed back with her. But you can see how that sort of response combines with the common notion that ‘social workers take your children away’ to mean that she heard it as a threat. It’s a real challenge for those of us involved in social work education to equip students to work in the context of that idea about their profession. It’s so tempting to just get annoyed with the idea that Social Workers Want To Take Children Away, but that’s a way of not really engaging with it. We need to help Social Workers to develop ways of actively countering that notion in the minutiae of everyday work.

I also took the paper as a salutary lesson in the merits of quantitative methods. It is so powerful to see the statistical patterns across a reasonably large longitudinal data set. Although of course I’d still want to interrogate the discourse in which I am inscribed which finds numbers peculiarly convincing and persuasive…

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