Anais Guittonny Conference Report 2017

Anais Guittonny is a PhD candidate in the School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics. She recently received funding from the Faculty of AHSS to attend a conference, read her report below. Her supervisor is Dr. Michael G. Kelly

Negative Representations of Women in Power – Brest, 3rd March 2017, Université de Bretagne Occidentale.

Study Day organised by Agnès Cousson and Elizabeth Mullen, co-organised by the HCTI laboratory, also in collaboration with CECJI laboratory.

Both fiction and reality have always contained many female figures who were particularly influential, strong or powerful, and who were the object of either fear or fascination. This is evocative of both the complexity of the debate centred on the negative representation of women in power and the common belief that women and power are intrinsically incompatible. Through the analysis of several examples (from literature, film and politics) the conference asked what the representations of women in power can teach us about the context in which these examples were produced, and how the male authors of those representations proceeded to deliver their own ideas about this topic.

Through the analyses of two Eighteenth Century utopians’ texts written in France, I demonstrated that, from this period, some authors began to misrepresent the mythical figure of the Amazon. These authors insisted on their lack of credibility and showed that women having power is an “unnatural” project which is going to wreak havoc and despair. The strong figure of powerful women was inverted to picture nagging, cruel, tyrannical and ugly women. While the intention of authors from Antiquity was to prevent any such attempt – although they considered it possible – these authors focused on discrediting it. The symbol of female revolt, the desire for freedom, was destroyed by a discrediting process. In their utopian laboratory, authors coined a very reasonable and logical demonstration in order to prove the natural weakness of women. This kind of discourse was far from being isolated at that time. The resurgence of the argument about the natural difference between the two sexes emerged from many fields such as science and philosophy after the second half of the Eighteenth Century in France. This can be seen as the result of the religious change at that time. Enlightenment writers fought the traditional Catholic doctrine by contrasting it with the idea of nature. They reconsidered the human being from the beginning as isolated in nature and disconnected their discourse about male-female relationship from the one in the Genesis. This will not be without consequences regarding the future of women’s right in France.

The debate engaged by this conference is not over and one other day will be organised soon to talk more about these issues. The project will probably result in a publication.