On 13 November I was a speaker in a symposium on ‘Women and War’, organised by the College to accompany an exhibition by photographer Lee Stow entitled ‘Poppies – Women and War’. Both initiatives have been a way for the College to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War, and as a Fellow I was particularly pleased and excited to be involved because war remembrance and the remembrance of the Great War in particular are at the heart of my research. (I’m an anthropologist.)
The day opened with photographer Lee Stow telling us very movingly about her photos and through them, about women past and present touched by war in different ways, as victims but also participants, witnesses, and survivors; it closed with a film by artist Lynn MacRitchie that was a powerful visual meditation on war, violence, remembrance and gender. In between, speakers from a range of disciplines talked about women and war from a variety of perspectives and provoked us to confront and challenge our assumptions and stereotypes. MEC Fellow Leo Mellor spoke about women journalists in World War II and their courageous and unflinching gaze on the horrors they documented and Christine Lindey showed how much the ideological agendas driving art in the Cold War period shaped pictorial images of women in both Eastern and Western blocs; alumna Angie Hobbs made us confront how hard it is to define a ‘hero’ especially once gender is factored in.
I considered women’s role as actors of remembrance and their potential to use commemoration to call to account the powers that would make more war. We also heard from alumna Eleanor O’Gorman about women’s continued exclusion from the rooms where formal peace negotiations take place, and also from Barbara Stocking (College President and former CEO of Oxfam) about the crucial role of ordinary women as peacemakers in countries torn by war worldwide, last but not least through their singing (as shown by a wonderful song about UN resolution 1325 on Gender, Peace and Security by women from Sierra Leone)!
For me this was the best possible way to remember the Great War and all those, past and present, touched by war. It was a day of thought-provoking, passionate and critical discussion and illuminating creative thinking – so much so that by the end of the day as someone put it, it felt like the beginning of a movement: a movement to make known the important and distinctive contribution that women can make to the ways that we think, act, report and respond when it comes to conflict.
Dr Paola Filippucci
Fellow and Director of Studies in Archaeology and Anthropology
The exhibition ‘Poppies – Women and War’ by Lee Stow is in college until 30 November. All welcome to view. http://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/about/womenandwar/exhibition