How to watch the World Cup?

sweden95In November 2013 the University of Bristol, UK, hosted an event titled ‘How to watch the World Cup’ to explore the forthcoming FIFA Men’s World Cup to be held in Brazil, and to expose the social, economic and cultural lens that would shape the ways that global audiences viewed and experienced the competition. This was part of a year-long series of events organised by the Sport + Translation research group during the year, which investigated the construction of national and gendered identities through sports over history. Interpreters, cultural critics, translators, sociologists and historians revealed the many ways in which spectators, audiences and societies have been excited and manipulated, to the extent that our final conference, in May 2014, triggered debate over whether we should watch the tournament at all. In the end, of course, we watched all the matches and were swept up in the political, social, economic and footballing hypothesising and social media hyperbole of those four weeks. In 2015 we find ourselves asking the question How to watch the World Cup? for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, to be held in Canada starting on 6 June.

Often the response has been not How but Why watch the Women’s World Cup? Commentators who just twelve months ago were suggesting that people take a month off work to indulge themselves in the frenzy of multicultural sporting celebration are now hazily ignoring the summer’s football, dwelling instead on non-stories of possible managerial movements and transfers. Is the sexism in contemporary global football cultures the simple explanation for this massive exercise in hypocrisy and indifference? Are there any justifications for believing that this year’s tournament might be less entertaining than last year’s? Or are there more deep-rooted historical and cultural explanations?

There’s an obvious intersection here with the research agenda of the Women, Work and Value network. As we have explored the different ways in which men’s and women’s work has been valued, some questions have recurred time and again, which seem just as pertinent to the lives and careers of professional sportswomen: why are women paid less than men for the same work? What makes it difficult for women to break into typically male professions? Why does popular culture fall back on gender stereotypes when it depicts women’s work?

To begin to answer these questions we have asked leading scholars for their views in the run-up to the Women’s World Cup, which we will publish here and at the Sport + Translation blog over the next two weeks. Then, on 11 June between 8pm and 9pm we’ll host a Twitter chat using the hashtag #WatchWWC to debate the issues and work out How to Watch the Women’s World Cup.

Matthew Brown @mateobrown, convenor of the Sport + Translation research cluster, and Reader in Latin American Studies, University of Bristol.

Josie McLellan @josiemclellan, Principal Investigator of the Women, Work, Value research project, and Reader in Modern European History, University of Bristol.


Women and Work: an Emotional Response

Budapest, without a doubt, is one of the most striking cites I have ever had the good fortune to visit. The snaking form of the Danube, the Buda side of the city rising to offer spectacular views while the Pest side’s sprawl of adjoining streets make for an unforgettable experience. Above all however, Budapest has a deeply conflicted nature. A façade of imperial buildings, relics of the Austro-Hungarian past, contrasted with a searing sense of liberalism. This can be seen in the famous ruin bars and the protests that face the monument commemorating the victims of the Second World War. The archangel Gabriel, representing the innocent Hungary, is born down upon by an eagle symbolising the German occupation. Now this monument has been overwhelmed by photographs and possessions of the victims of the Hungarian/German alliance: over half a million Jews and others sent to extermination camps by the Hungarian government. This popular counter-monument now stands to give a voice to the oppressed.

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What better place to host a workshop on women, the value of their work and what lies beneath the surface of a housewife’s domestic bliss? Budapest is a city of contrasts and so, I have learned, is the changing concept of womanhood.

Over two engrossing sessions, we examined the role and beliefs of women in the post-war world. From the Italian fight in the 1950s for equal pay and new maternity laws, to the British Women’s Liberation Movement, the papers offered new insights into sexual politics which continue to burn as brightly as ever. Finding myself surrounded by academics, experts in their fields, my initial trepidation was soon replaced by enthusiasm as I saw the importance of what we were discussing. Naturally these papers looked backwards to establish historical trends but these trends continue to colour our world in fascinating ways. The guilt of the working mother, ‘feminism’ as a dirty word and the prejudices surrounding domestic labours are issues of the present as much as the past.

In fact, the discussions accompanying the papers, and even dinner time conversation, highlighted how far there still is to go. The continued prominence of gender in the welfare system and gendered divisions in the professions affect both men and women; it is clear that the constructions of the past continue to weigh us down.

There was one phrase I kept finding myself uttering as we discussed the culture we have constructed: “I can’t believe this is happening in 2015”. And I can’t. I feel like learning the lessons of the past, examining the increase in gender equality of the last hundred years, is evidence of how far we have come but also how far we have to go. Raising children, running a business, maintaining a home: all of these should be equally respectable professions as any other. The critical aspect is the element of choice.

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The electric atmosphere of historical debate, as well as the opportunity to talk to academics about their philosophies and their life experiences, has given me a unique insight into feminist history. The legacy of women’s work has been a fraught one. From the glorified socialist vision of the working woman, the working mother, to the rise in atypical employment and the childcare demands this creates: the debate can be approached from all angles.

What I take from this, besides the opportunity to get to know a beautiful city and some wonderful people, is that gender politics is far from a closed book. The men and women who dedicate their time to this research have earned both my admiration and my support. The dual nature of Budapest, the dual character of the working woman; the feminist cause is not redundant and sometimes it is only by looking backwards that we can really move forwards.

Kati Taylor, Women, Work and Value Public Engagement Intern.

One thing I learnt in this workshop…

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At the ‘Women, Work, and Value’ academic conference in Florence in October , I had been fascinated by the ideas and debates surrounding the position of women in the workplace and at home, and how their output was valued by society and economists. Now it was time to take some of these ideas to a group that would have a slightly different perspective on what was being discussed than a group of academics. On April 21 I had the pleasure of running a workshop for a group of young women from the Meriton School, Bristol,  in my role as the network’s Public Engagement intern. The Meriton is a school for teenage mothers and expecting mothers, with crèche facilities enabling teenagers to continue their education, and take public exams, while their children are being cared for.

Josie McLellan and I met the group in the Refectory for lunch, and could already tell they were an exceptional group of girls- outgoing, chatty, and amazingly at ease in completely unfamiliar and potentially intimidating surroundings. I then ran a workshop designed for the girls to reflect on the discussions that had been had at the conference. Wary of a possibly shy and intimidated group, I had prepared plenty of activities and stimuli to prompt discussion.

Yet starting with just one simple activity – to name one ‘man’s job’, and one ‘women’s job’ – the group immediately launched into spirited debate, already asking each other the kinds of questions I had planned to raise with them. Why were certain jobs were perceived in such a gendered way? Can’t women do anything? This pattern continued through the whole workshop, with the lively debate, contributed to by every single girl, picking up outstandingly on the issues surrounding women and work. My favourite moment was when a fourteen year old suddenly made an astonishingly perceptive point about how women in advertising are just sexualised bodies – something I definitely did not pick up on when I was fourteen!

The debate continued when we moved on to ask how much stay-at-home mothers should be paid per hour, compared to what bankers, lawyers, teachers, and nurses earn. The point was made that a mother’s role incorporated all of these elements – something that had not occurred to me when preparing the activity! The room was divided between those supporting high pay for mothers, and those who thought mothers should not be paid at all, because it’s something you should do for love, not money. This led to another lively discussion about whether child benefit was payment for mothering, as well was why certain jobs were seen as better suited to men or women; we all challenged our own perceptions about female plumbers, and male childminders.


We honestly could have carried on the discussion for hours, and there was just time for a quick evaluation before the girls had to leave – as well as Josie introducing Bristol’s Foundation Year in Arts and Humanities One of the many fantastic moments of the afternoon was one of The Meriton’s students showing a real interest in the course (which is a year-long preparatory course for an undergraduate degree) and leaving with leaflets and Josie’s email address.

Thank you so much to Josie, Amy in the Widening Participation office, and Eleanor at the Meriton for organising the afternoon, but most of all to The Meriton’s participants, who made quite a nerve-racking experience for me (the first session of that kind I’ve completely designed and run alone) an amazing, enriching experience that I feel everyone got a lot out of. The level of discussion, as I told them at the end, would not have been out of place in one of my undergraduate seminars, and their life experience meant I saw the ideas and research that had been bandied around at the conference from a different, and helpful, perspective.

My whole internship, from the conference to this session, has given me the chance to connect with such a fantastic cross-section of really inspiring and impressive women in settings that put me far out of my comfort zone, and I hope all the network’s participants have found it as stimulating as I have. It’s also given me a fair few ideas for my dissertation… in fact, I might have to make another trip back to Florence for, um, research?

Sarah Brodie, Women, Work and Value Public Engagement Intern.

International Women’s Day in Budapest

I spent International Women’s Day at a workshop run by the ‘Women work and value’ network in Budapest. Apart from the network event, the only signs of International Women’s Day seemed to be discounts in the tourist bars:   one woman, 10% off drinks, 2 women 20 % off etc.   I’m not sure that is quite what the International Day is about, and, no, we didn’t take up the offers. At our workshop we were a little more focussed on women’s rights in the more usual sense of the word, from trade union activists in post-war Italy to redundant textile workers in today’s Croatia and care workers fighting for the right to overtime payments in the USA. All women, all low paid and all trying to get a better deal. My contribution was on the household duties tests in the UK sickness benefits schemes from the 1900s to the 1980s.

Gender, housework and incapacity

My research concerns the history of incapacity or sickness benefits in the UK and my paper was about housework. Is housework work? After all, as the feminist sociologist Ann Oakley told us in 1974: ‘the only difference between employment work and housework is housework’s lack of pay’ (Oakley 1974, The Sociology of Housework, p26).

If we count housework as ‘work’, then it seems to make sense to use evidence of capacity for housework as evidence of capacity for paid work when people claim sickness benefits. Policy makers battled over this problem for the first forty years of sickness benefits after they were first introduced in 1911. Women were often refused benefit when they were assessed as being able to do their own housework. By the 1950s decision makers came to a more considered view. A legal test case in 1951 said that a woman’s housework should only be considered as evidence of capacity for work if it was reasonable to assume that she could be paid to do similar work for an employer, for example as a cleaner or cook.

But what about men? The legal case did not discuss the position of men but the civil servants at the time thought about it. They were discussing how to crack down on married women who were capable of doing housework and pondered how to treat single women. They thought that they should be treated in the same way as married women:

I agree that the spinster or widow running a home for her sisters (or brothers) should be covered as well as the married woman

Handwritten note, October 1951 in TNA PIN 35/41

But not men:

but I think we should not be too avid in our search for the mere male who is doing his best with the housework while his wife goes out to maintain the home.

So men doing housework were just ‘helping out’ and were not to be policed in the same way as the women.

The 1970s and Housewives Non-Contributory Invalidity Pension (HNCIP).

And the whole housework question came back in the 1970s. In 1975, at the same time as introducing the Sex Discrimination Act, legislators in the UK came up with a social security benefit which made specific rules barring married women from claiming unless they could prove that they could not do the housework. This was Housewives Non-Contributory Invalidity Pension (HNCIP). To be fair on the legislators, the idea was to make a benefit available to women who had been unable to collect enough national insurance contributions to qualify for Invalidity Benefit because they had been out of the labour market. But the main benefit, Non-contributory Invalidity Pension (NCIP), was only available to men and single women. Married women had to pass the extra ‘housework’ test. The thinking was that married women did not expect to work outside the home, that they would be financially dependent on their husbands and that they should only qualify for a state benefit if they were unable to do their ‘normal work in the home’.

So what did these housewives have to do to show that they couldn’t do their housework? The claiming process was the same as for everyone else trying to get an invalidity benefit: they needed a certificate of ‘incapacity for work’ from their doctor but then they also needed to fill out a lengthy claim form. This form included questions about ability to dust, iron, stand in a queue, keep the home clean and tidy and other such ‘normal household duties. It also asked whether the claimant need to use any ‘special appliances’ to carry out such duties. Critics of the scheme pointed out that it was not clear at all what a ‘special appliance’ meant and whether or not it included such things as hoovers and automatic washing machines.

Disability campaigners and feminists at the time recognised the discrimination in this system and published detailed criticisms of it (For example, Lister, R. and Loach, I. (1978) Second Class Disabled – a report on the non-contributory invalidity pension for married women, London: Equal Rights for Disabled Women Campaign.) Eventually, as a result of campaigning by various organisations, the practical difficulties identified by the policy makers and increasing pressure from equal opportunities policies, HNCIP was abolished and replaced by a non-contributory benefit which the same for all men and women: Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) in 1984.

Housework not child care

What struck me at the Budapest workshop was the discussion on housework duties and ‘care’. Several of the other speakers talked about ‘care work’, either paid or unpaid in connection with providing personal care for older people and disabled people, or the work of looking after small children. In all the discussion of ‘housework’ in the archives that I have been looking at, the focus is almost entirely on the daily work that has to be done to maintain a household, with little mention of the people who live in it. So it is all about cleaning and washing, dusting and hoovering, shopping and cooking. Obviously the existence of small children or many other people in the house will increase the volume of these activities but there is barely a mention of the personal care which small children need or the sheer daily grind of getting children up and out to school, keeping them clean and getting them to bed. I also realised that the discussion in the archives is always about ‘married women’ not ‘mothers’. Now it may be assumed that married women and mothers could easily be equated in the early to mid-twentieth century but in many of the housework cases that I’ve identified, the women’s status as mothers was not mentioned. Either they did not have children, or their children were grown up or it was not felt to be relevant to discuss them. So what is happening here? It looks to me that the emphasis on housework was really that: the cleaning, cooking etc that was needed to maintain the house or the household, not the ‘child care’ that we think about today in relation to women’s ‘double burden’. So this was a recognition that housework was work but perhaps that looking after children was not – or maybe it was just so taken for granted that there was no need to mention it.

There is nothing like an international workshop like this to get you thinking about your research in a new way.

Dr Jackie Gulland

University of Edinburgh

For more information on this research, see:

“My house in Budapest/My hidden treasure chest”

“My house in Budapest/My hidden treasure chest”…I can’t get this earworm out of my head as we prepare for next week’s third Women, Work and Value workshop at the Central European University in Budapest.

In this workshop, we focus squarely on the politics of how women’s work was valued in the postwar era. The programme [] truly is a treasure chest of exciting new research, from Jackie Gulland’s work on the intersection of gender and disability in the definition of incapacity to work, to Roxane Vasile’s paper on sex worker activism in postsocialist Eastern Europe.
We are also lucky enough to have another inspirational keynote speaker in Eileen Boris []. Eileen will be giving us a insight into her new work on labour organising around care work – no doubt picking up on many of the themes from workshop 2.
Registration is still open for this workshop, but if you can’t make it to Budapest, do follow the Twitter conversation via our usual hashtag #womenwork2015. We also hope to bring you some highlights via the blog in the coming weeks. Watch this space!
Dr. Josie McLellan, Reader in Modern European History, University of Bristol
0117 9546817

The Myth of the ‘1950s Housewife’


One of the most enduring images in British popular culture is that of the 1950s housewife, the ‘perfect’ wife and mother, blissfully devoted to caring for her husband and children. Images of the 1950s housewife were prevalent in mass circulation magazines of the day, most notably Woman and Women’s Own. Here the happy wife was depicted in her bright modern kitchen, surrounded by her adorable children and looking fabulous despite the demands of housework and childcare. So ubiquitous is this image that the popularity of vintage clothing and accessories, most notably the distinctive products sold in Cath Kidston shops, can be directly traced back to the romantic ideal of the contented 1950s housewife.

It may come as a surprise therefore to learn that in the 1950s housewives’ associations vigorously rejected this vision of the ‘perfect’ wife. The Mothers’ Union, Women’s Institutes and Townswomen’s Guilds were traditional women’s organisations with memberships of hundreds of thousands of wives and mothers. Although they championed the role of the full-time wife and mother these groups challenged the view that women should only be interested in the domestic and think only about the needs of their husbands and children.   The Mothers’ Union warned women ‘not to make an idol out of domesticity’ and that it was wrong to suggest that a woman’s main aim in life was to find a husband. The Townswomen’s Guild spurned the image of the happy housewife arguing that ‘the frilly little woman, pottering at home’ did not accurately represent the real experiences of wives and mothers.

So if housewives’ associations objected to this ‘false’ portrayal of the 1950s housewife how did they envisage the lives of their members during these years? Instead of glamourising domestic work the Mothers’ Union, Women’s Institutes and Townswomen’s Guilds provided practical and emotional support to help with the everyday struggles experienced by most wives and mothers. This included advice on childcare, relationships and housework. Members were also provided with the opportunity to meet other women outside the home and to engage in social, leisure and educational activities. At the national level housewives associations campaigned for a wide range of reforms that would enhance the lives of women and ensure that housework was recognised as a skilled and professional occupation. These demands included better housing, access to healthcare and adequate social welfare payments to wives, mothers and widows.

Perhaps most revealing is the fact that housewives’ associations in the 1950s accepted that increasing numbers of mothers would seek paid work outside the home. Unlike the typical portrayal of the housewife in women’s magazines where a wife ‘works from nine to five and whips up apple pie…sets children to rights and her hair for a Saturday night out’ (Woman, 27 April 1963), housewives’ organisations discussed and debated at length the practical ways in which women could balance domestic and paid work. Mothers who wanted to engage in paid work and care for their families were not condemned as ‘bad mothers’. Instead ideas such as after school care, holiday clubs and flexible working hours were researched and investigated and pressure was brought to bear on both government and employers to facilitate the growing numbers of mothers going out to work. In pursuing these campaigns traditional housewives’ organisations demonstrated that they valued all work undertaken by women, both paid and unpaid.

In providing a public voice for housewives in the 1950s, housewives’ associations debunked the idea that being a wife and mother was the be all and end all for women. Instead it was argued that women as wives, mothers, workers and citizens had a major contribution to make not only to family life but to the life of their communities and nation. The work that housewives did and how they felt about their lives could not be represented by a single image in a popular magazine. So once and for all let us consign the stereotype of the ‘1950s housewife’ to mythology.

Dr Caitríona Beaumont

London South Bank University


‘Professional Triumph, Personal Failure’? Stigma and the Single Career Woman.


Today I came across yet another pejorative reference to single career women, this time in a demographic article about contemporary marriage patterns in China. The authors describe the term ‘leftover ladies’ (shengnü), used by the media in China to label women who remain single. They note this gendered, stigmatizing term is regardless of the fact that the urban, highly educated women who are most likely to remain single after 30 ‘may choose to do so in response to undesirable gender roles in Chinese society’[1]. As someone who has researched singleness amongst women in the UK, what struck me was how familiar this negative depiction of educated single women is, despite the very different social contexts.

Several cultural studies scholars have analysed the hypervisibility of the white, heterosexual and financially secure single woman in Western popular culture in recent decades. The widespread popularity and international reach of characters such as Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw may be seen as a type of cultural affirmation of the new single woman; nevertheless, as Anthea Taylor argues, single women are rarely represented as reconciled with their singleness, and the most visible representation seems to be their wish to ‘unsingle’[2]. Despite an apparently positive shift in representations of single women, from spinster to Singleton, a prevalent theme is evident – that of the ‘professional triumph, personal failure’ of the single career woman. The not so subtle subtext is that women who achieve career success are failing at what they really aspire to – a successful romantic relationship.

Several authors have interpreted representations of single women in popular culture, as well as media stories about ‘man shortages’ and ‘spinster booms’, as indicative of social anxieties about women’s increasing independence[3]. Women may be financially independent, yet by so doing they risk becoming ‘leftover ladies’. In doing my own research on contemporary never-married women, I came across much historical work that demonstrates such anxieties are far from new. For example, Judith Spicksley’s research on single women involved in money lending in the first half of the seventeenth century argues that invective aimed at spinsters was a response to the high proportions of single women with economic autonomy emerging in the wake of the Civil War. Alongside moves in the economic and political spheres that resulted in a diminution of the rights of single women to work and to own property, it was in the sphere of culture that single women were subject to the greatest onslaught, with singleness depicted as unwomanly[4]. Historical research by Martha Vicinus identifies anxieties about the ‘problem’ of ‘surplus’ women in the Victorian period: she cites an article from 1862 by the prolific social commentator W.R. Greg, titled ‘Why Are Women Redundant’, in which he expresses concern about the increasing incidence of spinsterhood. This “unwholesome social state” was productive of “much wretchedness and wrong”, especially for those middle and upper class women who, “not having the natural duties and labours of wives and mother, have to carve out artificial and painfully-sought occupations for themselves; who, in place of completing, sweetening, and embellishing the existence of others, are compelled to lead an independent and incomplete existence of their own”[5].

Depictions of the single woman who pursues career success at the cost of a romantic relationship are also not only evident in our media. Academic work which assumes the necessity and centrality of romantic coupledom also implicitly problematises those outside this. This is often explicitly so in relation to singleness for women, with the single career women in particular likely to be depicted as pitiable or blameworthy. Thus, influential sociological theorising on contemporary family change refers to an emerging problem “affecting those women who pursue an independent career but in most cases pay a high price, the loneliness of the professionally successful woman”[6].

What is the effect of such negative depictions? Rates of singleness continue to rise – and interestingly at working age are usually higher for men, rarely subject to the same scrutiny. In recent decades there have been an increasing number of empirical studies which seek to understand the experience of singleness from the perspective of single women themselves. Alongside this, an exponential rise in online blogs has seen single women writing about their experiential knowledge of the benefits and challenges of singleness. Scholars analysing these blogs suggest these represent the emergence of new oppositional voices, with women articulating singlehood from a confident and unapologetic position[7]. Depicting oneself as contentedly single is a form of resistance to prevalent discourses of singleness as ‘personal failure’. As Anthea Taylor notes, such accounts show that “the scripts limiting the way women experience and make sense of their singleness are able to be rewritten”. I look forward to seeing more representations of ‘satisfied singles’ in both media and academic scholarship, an alternative to the long-standing trope of ‘leftover ladies’.

Roona Simpson, Lecturer in Social Sciences Research Methods, University of Glasgow.

[1] Qian, Y. And Qian, Z. (2014) The Gender Divide In Urban China: Singlehood And Assortative Mating By Age And Education, Demographic Research Volume 31, Article 45, Pages 1337–1364.

[2] Taylor, A. (2012). Single women in popular culture: The limits of postfeminism. Palgrave Macmillan. See also Negra, D. (2004). Quality postfeminism?. Sex and the Single Girl on HBO. Genders, 39, 1-16.

[3][3] For example see Faludi, S. (1992) Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women, London, UK: Chatto and Windus; Whelehan, I. (2000) Overloaded: Popular Culture and the Future of Feminism. London, UK: Women’s Press

[4] Spicksley, J. (2001) ‘The Early Modern Demographic Dynamic: Celibates And Celibacy In Seventeenth-Century England’, PhD diss., University of Hull.

[5] Cited in Vicinus, M. (1988). Independent Women: work and community for single women, 1850-1920. University of Chicago Press.

[6] Beck, U. & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (1995) The Normal Chaos Of Love, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

[7] See for example Lahad, K. (2014) The Single Woman’s Choice as a Zero-Sum Game, Cultural Studies, 28:2, and Taylor, A. (2012). Single women in popular culture: The limits of postfeminism. Palgrave Macmillan.