Ms/representation: Mass Media & Feminisms in Historical Context

University of Westminster, Saturday 29 November 2014

 Fear of Flying. Judy Blume. Dirty Dancing. Louisa May Alcott. Cosmopolitan. Nancy Drew. Sex and the City. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Girls. Madonna. Cagney and Lacey. Gloria Steinem.

Media and literary depictions of girls and women can both reflect widely accepted gender norms and challenge them.  At the same time, such representations (fictional and non-fictional) offer audiences escapism, role models and ways of understanding themselves and their own lives, sometimes simultaneously.  In this conference, we aim to explore the depictions of women and girls in film, television, music, literature and journalism from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.

Do particular female characters tell us about the society in which they were created?  What do popular responses to certain books, films and television shows reveal about women’s lives?  Why do some creations inspire enormous levels of fandom and devotion?  How do we discern the meanings ascribed to images of femininity in popular culture?  Has feminist scholarship found adequate ways to explore these issues?

We also invite reflections on the ways in which such representations have affected our lives (personally, professionally and politically).  Many of us remember devouring the works of specific authors, or waiting expectantly for the start of a new television series, or valiantly trying to re-create the look from a film (to varying degrees of success!).  We encourage papers that discuss these formative influences, offering participants an opportunity to explore which women and girls in the media and literature shaped them at different stages of their life.  How did they affect you?  Why were they so powerful?  What repercussions, if any, did this have on your life?  Are there connections that you can make now that you were not able to see at the time?  To what extent can you map your research interests onto earlier preferences around film, television, music, books and magazines?

Ms/representation is the seventh annual conference of the Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW).  As such, papers with a particular emphasis on the Americas may be given priority although we encourage submissions looking at other areas or considering the global influence of US media and film industries.  Panel submissions are also welcome.  Participants will be invited to submit to the History of Women in the Americas journal, subject to the usual peer review procedure.

The conference organisers are Dr Helen Glew (University of Westminster), Dr Sinead McEneaney (St. Mary’s University) and Dr Rachel Ritchie (Brunel University).

A 250-word abstract and a short biography should be emailed to by 17th October.  Please use the same email address for any other enquiries about the event.