Catherine Clay

Catherine Clay is Associate Professor in Feminist and Literary Studies at Nottingham Trent University, UK, and specializes in British women’s writing and feminist print media of the interwar period. Her publications include British Women’s Writing 1914-1945: Professional Work and Friendship (2006), Time and Tide: The Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine (2018), and (with Maria DiCenzo, Barbara Green, and Fiona Hackney) Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1918-1939 (2018). Her new project on the cultural history of the first three decades of the International Federation of University Women takes her combined interests in women’s literary networks and the periodicals and print culture of feminism’s so-called ‘first wave’ in a transnational direction.

‘Women without powder or lipstick’: Transnational Perspectives on Feminism via the Press and Publicity Work of the International Federation of University Woman

In this paper I explore the early press and publicity work of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), one of several international women’s organizations identified with the ‘high tide’ of women’s transnational activism in the years between the two world wars (Rupp, 1997: 34). In particular, I look at two aspects of this work: (1) the print media produced both by the IFUW and by its national branches, which kept members informed of each other’s activities across the international network, and (2) the international press coverage of the IFUW’s biennial (later triennial) conferences. The IFUW (which continues today as Graduate Women International) was founded in 1919 to promote international understanding and friendship between university-educated women around the world and shared with other international women’s organizations an underlying objective of world peace. My paper focuses on an underexplored cultural history of the IFUW and asks what its use of and engagement with media can tell us about the intersection of feminist and literary interests during the early history of this organization, and about transnational perspectives on feminism during this period.

(Photo: Bromley House Library)

Lucy Delap

Lucy Delap teaches history at the University of Cambridge and is a Fellow of Murray Edwards College.  Her interest in media history spans feminist periodicals, bookshops and publishing. She has published widely on the history of feminism, gender, labour and religion, including the prize-winning The Feminist Avant-Garde: Transatlantic Encounters of the early twentieth century (2007), Knowing Their Place: Domestic Service in Twentieth Century Britain (2011), and Feminisms: a global history (2020). She is a senior editor of History & Policy, and won the Royal Historical Society Public History (Public Debate and Policy) Prize in 2018 for her work with Prof Louise Jackson and Prof Adrian Bingham on the history of child sexual abuse.

Ecofeminism and ‘kindred reading’: the Green Movement in 1980s Britain

The visible and powerfully innovative women’s camp at Greenham Common from 1981 inspired a significant feminist strand to the overlapping peace and environmental movements in late twentieth century Britain. Yet beyond Greenham itself, there has been little exploration of ecofeminism in either intellectual or activist histories of the British women’s movement. I explore debates around the environment, spirituality, violence and women within the Green Movement. My paper advocates for the value of charting the intellectual, material and ideological evolution of a social movement – in this case, feminism – through a kindred or related movement – the green movement. This ‘kindred reading’ approach helps excavate muted or relatively invisible dimensions of a social movement. In this instance, an exploration of green politics makes visible a significant, though contested, strand of ecofeminism that has been far from the centre of existing historiography and only fleetingly acknowledged. I analyse the journal loosely affiliated to the Ecology Party and the ‘Green Movement’ in Britain, Green Line. I showcase the extensive debates over feminism within its pages in the 1980s. Adopting this approach sheds light on the circulation and reception of feminist ideas in radical and alternative circles, through often remarkably direct analysis of the value of shared platforms, intellectual alliances or activist strategies between feminist and green movements.

(Photo: Louis Ashworth, Varsity)

Henk de Smaele

Henk de Smaele (1970) is professor of history at the University of Antwerp, where he is affiliated to Power in History: Centre for Political History. His research focuses on the history of gender and sexuality in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is also co-chair of the Belgian Women’s History Archives (Brussels).

Who’s afraid of Mrs Robinson? The Belgian reception of The Graduate and what it tells about the history of feminism and the media

Mike Nichols’s film The Graduate (1967) was a box office hit when it was released, but the picture remained popular during the following decades and up until today. The film tells the story of the seduction of the young graduate Benjamin (a role played by Dustin Hoffman, whose career was launched by the success of the film) by the much older married Mrs Robinson (played by Anne Bancroft). The songs by Simon and Garfunkel (including the song ‘Mrs Robinson’) have contributed to the iconic status of the movie and its story of an intergenerational sexual affair. Contemporaries interpreted the film as a satirical commentary upon American society, including the relations between the sexes, sexual mores, and the superficiality and ‘phoniness’ of human relations in a capitalist society. The film director was at that point mainly known for his earlier film adaptation of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton), that was also seen as a cinematic exploration and pitiless dissection of the deplorable state of wedded life of the American bourgeois couple. In Belgian reviews of The Graduate too, such themes and topics surfaced, and commentators recognized the angry young man as well as the bored middleclass suburban housewife who transformed into a sexual predator. The film incited discussions on female emancipation and sexual liberation, in which Belgian developments were mirrored as well as contrasted with ‘American’ conditions. In these reviews, the medium ‘film’ and the role of Hollywood in encouraging or producing societal trends such as the ‘war of the sexes’ or the obsession with individual self-expression and sexual gratification were also often explicitly addressed. Talking about the press reviews of The Graduate offers a way to address the specific Belgian history of feminism and its representation in newspapers (from the late 1960s onwards), while situating it within a much wider, international history of women’s emancipation and the role of media.