Events and the Politics of Gender Symposium 8/09/17

Convened by:
Dr. Rebecca Finkel (Queen Margaret’s University)
Dr. Louise Platt (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Critical events research has been a developing field for over two decades, and many scholars have framed political, social, and economic studies around planned events and their impacts on communities and places. More and more cities and countries around the globe are employing planned events to address socio-economic issues. Convergences of gender, sexuality, and intersectional analyses and events, sport, leisure, and tourism studies have begun to drive new critical understanding of the impacts of events on diverse communities and places in cities, countries, and worldwide. However, there is still a huge gap in this area of critical events research, and the work to date mainly addresses gender on its own, so intersectional debates still need to happen more often and more effectively.

We had been talking about doing an event like this for a while now – but we didn’t know where to start – should it be focused on industry, given we all have a vast majority of students who identify as women; yet, the top decision making bodies and governance of major events are occupied by men – predominantly white men? Or should we focus on the need for more research and critical event studies focused on gender, equality, and diversity and discuss the challenges of getting such work recognised, published, and taken seriously – challenges events research has at the best of times let alone when adopting feminist approaches.

Following the recent contemporary policy debate paper written by Rhodri Thomas in Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure, and Events, we shared the concerns raised about the lack of women and ethnic minority voices in events management research, policies, and practices. Whilst Thomas points out positive changes and initiatives, it remains that white men dominate the sector, visually at least, at high profile events and in industry publications. It is also becoming increasingly evident via social media platforms that there is discomfort around the prominence of all male panels and conferences whether academic or corporate, and there is a website documenting this. There has also been a clear lack of consideration of policy-making within the examination of the professional events sector on diversity beyond just gender with questions of ethnicity, disability, and sexuality receiving limited attention.

Policy-makers and organisations in the planned events sector need to consider how gender, equality, and diversity is managed across the sector as a legal and moral imperative. We, as social scientists, have a responsibility to inform such thinking and contribute to positive social change. There is an expectation that tourism, leisure, and events organisations, management professionals, and public bodies have a responsibility not only to support equality endeavours, but also to promote diversity within their own organisations as well as appeal to diverse audiences and communities. Along with analyses of mega-event contexts there is also scope to focus more locally and examine how policies related to gender, equality, and diversity processes are affecting the events landscape. Critical event studies employing intersectional approaches can contribute to knowledge in understanding the ways in which events-related gender, equality, and diversity policies have an impact on people and places. It also has the potential to further discourses related to power relations, sites of challenge and resistance, and models of best practice. A question remains whether our events programmes represent diversity in their student bodies and academic staff, as well as in what we deliver in the curriculum.

We wanted to foster an on-going debate on policies around gender, equality, and diversity across the events sector, so we decided to put a stream together for the European Conference on Politics & Gender – ECPG. We put out a call for abstracts, and we got interesting submissions and not just from critical event scholars, but those researching in other subjects with a focus on planned events. Our stream proposal was rejected by the ECPG, as it was not seen to fit in with the conference themes enough. This may be an example of the crisis in legitimacy we events scholars face – even though our critical work is relevant and important for understanding contemporary society, we are still seen as a practical discipline by many traditionalists with a narrow view of what social, cultural, and political analysis entails. Anyway, we regrouped and opted not to be forced into a subject-specific conference; rather, we wanted to keep the scope broad enough to show the breadth and depth of intersectional work being done around events. Further, gender, equality, and diversity issues are not subjects which only pertain to a particular country or region; rather, they incorporate ethical ideals and provide platforms for understanding complex cultural processes with which the international academic community already engage on multiple levels. These are global issues and the perspectives from different nations enhance debate and discussion; therefore, we were keen to ensure that the symposium brought international perspectives, with the hope that this will catalyse further debates and discussions and bring in more interdisciplinary scholars from around the world.

The day was opened by a keynote from Dr Beccy Watson (Reader in the Carnegie School of Sport at Leeds Beckett University). Her presentation, ‘Thinking intersectionally about meanings and moments across leisure and events: Applying a critical feminist lens’ asked us as scholars to think about the intersections between leisure and activism and to engage with intersectional feminist approaches in our methodologies. She presented work based on Leeds West Indian Carnival asking questions of who can occupies these event spaces and how events are responding to political discourses in circulation at present. Drawing on a legacy of work within leisure studies from a feminist perspective there is a need for event scholars apply these critical lenses.

Barbara Grabher presented her PhD research into the gendering of City of Cultures. The research addressed European Capital of Culture (ECOC) and UK City of Culture (UKCOC), specifically Donostia/San Sebastian as ECOC 2016 and Hull as UKCOC 2017. The paper considered these events as platforms to produce specific gendered discourses. In particular, in what ways the two mega-events construct a culture of gender equality through their cultural programme. Through an ethnographic approach, the analysis considered the politics, practices and perceptions of gender equality.

We then turned to the world of sport events and the reporting of ‘WAGs’ at a major global football event. Roger Domenghetti’s presentation explore the gendered narratives constructed by the English popular Press during the 2016 UEFA European Championship football tournament using qualitative textual analysis to interrogate text and related images in hard copies of the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, The Sun and the Daily Star and their respective Sunday counterparts. The analysis demonstrated that despite the increasing prevalence of female sports journalists and the increasing coverage of female athletes in a variety of sports, including football, the reporting of men’s football continues to cast women in subordinate and sexualised roles. Furthermore, women who challenge these roles, particularly those who establish their own voice within the event’s discursive space, are mainly demonised.

An international perspective from Dr. Amanda de Lisio and Dr. Caroline Fusco considered the ‘creative destruction’ of Olympic host communities specifically sex workers in Rio during 2016. Prior to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janerio, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency for Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that can result in birth defects if pregnant women are exposed to the virus. Central and South American countries were identified as places where the virus was flourishing. Panic ensued and there was a global media outcry that the 2016 Olympic Games must not proceed. The discourses that surrounded Zika suggests implicit discourses of contagion through ‘deviant’ contact with racialized and sexualized others were palpable. The Olympic spectacle has permanently (re)configured geographies (and interconnected economies) of desire which has had (un)intended realities for non-normative (sex worker, travesti, transsexual, LGTBQ etc.) desires.

Staying with the Olympics, Madeleine Pape from the University of Wisconsin addressed the issue of Hyperandrogenisation Regulations of the International Olympics Committee. Her paper argued that whilst feminist and gender scholars have long grappled with the relationship between gender and sex. She asked how and when are mainstream institutions, and particularly those requiring strict divisions between man/woman and male/female, made to confront the complicated relationship between gender and sex? And when confronted, how do such institutions re-establish – or reconfigure – their gender and sex frameworks? Events in international sport can bring this destabilization to the surface in acute and sometimes violent ways, as evidenced by contestation over gender verification at the Rio Olympic Games.

The next steps will be a special issue with the Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events which will further some of these debates. We hope this this symposium will act as a catalyst for further critical conversations, networks, and scholarly outputs.




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