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Last Thursday (2nd Feb) I attended a lecture held at Amnesty International’s offices in London to hear Judith Butler and Sudeep Dasgupta discuss ‘paternalism’. The event was organised and curated by the Institute of International Visual Arts, Iniva, which programmes exhibitions, learning and research projects that seek to engage with new ideas and emerging debates in the contemporary visual arts, reflecting in particular the cultural diversity of contemporary society.

This event, part of Iniva’s ‘Keywords’ series of lectures takes its title from Raymond Williams’ seminal book ‘Keywords: a Vocabulary of Culture and Society’ (1976) which looks at how the meaning of words change as the context in which they are used changes about them. Each lecture invites different theorists, academics, artists to consider words such as ‘class’, ‘postcolonial’ and evaluate or respond to their meaning in contemporary society.

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Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at University of California, Berkeley. She is also, probably, one of the most influential contemporary theorists on gender theory. ‘Gender Trouble’, first published in 1990, introduced (in very simple terms) the notion that gender is a performance, that the notions of femininity and masculinity are created by cultural-social influenced acts that bound individuals within a heterosexual matrix (!). I plan to come back to Judith Butler a lot in my research. Her work is massively dense and painful to read – I once heard a quite esteemed academic refer to reading her work  as ‘like trying to swallow glass’. It takes you on a mental journey whereby you have to re-programme all your thoughts that you perceive to be your own and question how they were formulated by external influences, but that’s the point of theory. She questions all the fixed notions of identity – notions that are paramount to the subjects that I am addressing with regards to gendered employment in the Creative Media Industries.

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Miriam O’Reilly has won a landmark tribunal against the BBC for ageism in the UK visual media. As a researcher specialising in gender and the media the tribunal could not be a more timely case study. I would like to state that I am not able to comment on the tribunal’s decision or on the BBC’s conduct. I am not a media professional and therefore not in a position to do so. what I find interesting in this case is how the application of gender theory to the final court settlement (which upheld a claim of age discrimination over sex discrimination) offers interesting insight to the story.

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