Padam… Padam… GEA Conference 2017: Dr Zoe Charalambous

By Dr. Zoe Charalambous, Anatolia College

“Cet air qui m’obsède jour et nuit
Cet air n’est pas né d’aujourd’hui
Il vient d’aussi loin que je viens
Traîné par cent mille musiciens
Un jour cet air me rendra folle
Cent fois j’ai voulu dire pourquoi
Mais il m’a coupé la parole
Il parle toujours avant moi
Et sa voix couvre ma voix”

Written by Henri Contet and Norbert Glanzberg, sang by Edit Piaf

Padam… Padam… the sound keeps being repeated in my head as my past returns.

“Not having a voice means you become empty from inside, you become dead,” I had mentioned consciously and unconsciously during the panel discussion titled:  “Teaching Intersectional Resistance: Global Feminist Teachers in Conversation.” I had said that actually not having a voice as a feminist may be symbolic of being a Greek feminist. I am still unsure of what feminist I am; I have to tell you the truth here before you read. We (myself and my students at Anatolia College) created Genderisms, a club exploring gender relations in high-school doing “amateur or not” research, reading Butler and Lacan, and playing with ideas on how to bring awareness of sexism going on – we created ‘AC Genderisms’ too on Facebook. Musings on Gender; we called it in Greek:  ‘ Φυλο-λογισμοί» (unsuited quotes here intended).

I have not read much Feminist theory, though I love Irigaray’s wave-like writing and Bracha Ettinger’s echoes of the primitive womb of all connections for that which we all seek. I am also in love with fantasies and their stories of prohibition, and the uncontrollable madness of the symbolic muting the Real – Padam- Padam- Lacan…so bear with me, with the fruit I shall bear. We always begin with a disclaimer in this capitalist society, don’t we?

When you are given a voice, how does the chimera of all that you have concealed come out unlike a tsunami?

I am thinking of a conference as a vessel packed with voices speaking their directions in the wind; then letting go of their articulated creations into the crowds of understanding to become something: what? Where do we go from here?

What happens after a conference? It is not just about the knowledge shared. It is about the solidarity and the generation of connections. Thank GEA we are not alone. Even the most minimal of discussions which happen between strangers about their work and passions produce threads of connections- interlacing us all back into realizing that we do can have an actual impact.

The 2017 Gender Education Association Conference at Middlesex University contained oceans of both visible and invisible questions about what it means to explore gender in education and what it means to be a feminist, (for me).

As I start this blog very abstractedly I wonder can the personal take on a communal meaning?

I begin with my story returning to London for this conference after unexpectedly returning to Greece, due to personal circumstances. From being an academic at university I became a teacher at a high-school : quite a violent return to my old school and being a metaphorical teenager myself.  And now, a re-turn to the future I was building here in my you-topian home London. The place where I found my own language, English, to write my dreams. I walked down a cemented pathway after leaving the Middlesex campus on day 1 of the conference and I thought of “circles- cycles” of generations.  We are generating new–reconfiguring material “discursive apparatuses” (someone and everyone) quoted from the conference) as we engage deep in and on the space (De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984 ). Documenting a walk of thought.  How can documenting our walks of thought in the past and in the present help us better understand how we are shaping our future as feminists?

For me this question becomes very important having to teach girls and boys at school, touching their minds with theory that may mean something or nothing or anything to them. How do we manage to make them aware of their own desire, their agenda, their human rights without imposing our own convoluted projections for what never came to be for us, or for what has become for us? I touch upon this concern as this is the key question in my own teaching/research – how do we teach without indoctrinating? How do we liberate without imprisoning?

This conference was a concave mirror for the practices and transformation currently going on within and beyond the academic landscape about ways of understanding gender and feminism. Here is a generalization. I will become more specific.

What I heard in this conference became separated in my mind in these four categories, themes touched on:

a) The safety in learning and education linked with community connections and boundaries.                                   

Leading and relating to…

b) Reflections: is it about us? Teachers? Academics?

Producing wondering experiments/discussions/presentations on the question of…

c) How do we do this? via projects/workshops/bodies/art discussing bags, music, dirt .

Moving to Metaphors in order to view these issues and understand them….

d) Theory about and conceptualizations of situations linked with gender and feminism.

All of these moves/categories happening at the same time and not in a linear sequential order.

All of these articulations (for me) somehow encompassed by the echo of Ahmed’s title: “Leading a Feminist Academic Life”

It is impossible to touch upon all the presentations and material covered in the conference. So, I will briefly mention the presentations/ideas that most relate to teaching English at my school.

Jessica Ringrose, Hanna Retallack and Ileana Jimenez have been significant in my coming to this conference. They have been my supporters and believers. Thus, attending “Nasty Feminist Teachers” took on a special meaning for me at the conference.  During this session, Hanna and Ileana spoke about their ongoing collaboration to create a feminism syllabus to teach their classes and Hanna’s visit to Ileana’s school in New York. Ileana touched upon the unsaid incidents happening within her school having to do with sexual harassment and how this course actually managed to push for an actual change in the school’s policy. Activism and education hand-in-hand.   It was most inspiring to listen to Briony O’Keefe’s efforts to create a campaign with her students, creating posters against sexism, her funded writing of teaching resource material and the open manner she conducts her classes.  I loved that her students call her by first name. She highlighted that she always tries to be at one level with them, not playing the “monopoly” of the teacher, as I understood this.  Briony really helped me understand how far we, as teachers, can take a multi-modal project we do with human rights into having an effect on the community.

“Bag experiments: Working the borders of gender fluidity” by Constance Elmenhorst, Nikki Fairchild, Carol Taylor, Mikra Koro-Ljunberg, Angelo Benozzo and Neil Carey was especially poignant in that in the doing and undoing and writing about and for bags we were just creating and breaking down borders in our minds with our bodies.  In many ways, embodying the social borders of gender and the fluidity of gender is not an easy reality to mouth! Thus, I found great inspiration in doing and undoing bags, and the idea of what is inside, what is an extension. This is  an activity high-school students could use to wonder – along perhaps with a small excerpt from “Gender Trouble” or “ On giving an account of oneself.”

Other useful ideas were:  using music projects to communicate (“troubled”) masculinities. Elly Scrine’s project of using Drake’s song and re-making it with two students in order to help them work through anger was also an inspiration. At the same time, via the presentations of Anne-Sofie Nystrom, Minna Salminen Karlsson and Carolyn Jackson the importance of exploring the “masculine” anxiety reared its beautiful head.

Dr Iris van der Tuin’s key note lecture on “The Generative Curriculum: On the Past, Present and Future of Feminist Teaching and Learning” was hugely intriguing in the sense that as I listened to the melodies of theories and wondrous abstractions – going against the grain in terms of simple and accessible key note lectures – I recognized many of the Middle Years Practices (in IB Schools) which we attempt to work with at our high-school – allowing students to find their own questions – their topics – the Personal Project, which colleagues of mine have been working on and have really been watching wonders happening in the minds and passionate pursuits of the students. That is the beauty of when theory and practice actually meet and recognize each other as always having been each other’s fate.

In many ways, this is an ongoing question at schools – a question I had encountered when I was teaching a module for the B. Ed at the Institute of Education UCL – and one that I am now also faced with as a teacher- “Oh Zoe, this is theory – practice is what is important.” The dismissal of other ways in which we can see our life –practice-profession – the dismissal of our imagination is one of the biggest disappointments; yet it is not anymore.  One must waddle through the water one chooses to waddle in. I wonder whether the acceptance of the struggle is the first step towards grounding our fears of subjection to a system that requires us to be “practical” and not “theoretical” ;but we must view (theorize ) what we do (praxis).

Research too is significant: to listen to the very detailed results of the session titled: “Examining family and educational experiences of gender diverse and transgender children and young people: methodologies, policies and practices” chaired by Rachel Skinner and presentations by Ulman, J, Davis C., and Robinson, K. was precious evidence pinpointing the significance of realizing that concealing hurts ;  the percentages of self-harm and suicide rates of kids who are not allowed a voice to speak what they are exploring- the lack of sexuality education – looking through the internet to find a label for what you are going through- the harm we cause because we are afraid of the Other. This reminded me of Zizek’s “Neighbours and Other Monsters”(2005). We are afraid to look at our neighbour’s mangled/hurt arm because it is something we contain inside of us – the shame of containing that which you cannot talk about.

This takes me to the very interesting following sessions about “Affective Relationality as Response-ability” with presentations by Gowlett C, Hook G, Mayers, E and Wolfe, M. What really stayed with me was the “resistance” discussed by Genine Hook in her undergraduate teaching and the attacks she underwent for having a feminist syllabus.  I wonder aren’t we teachers for those who attack us? What is the limit? Lacan argues that when we perceive resistance from others it is always our own. (Charalambous, 2014, p. 126) – Someone at the conference told me “You are very generous Zoe” when I had said that we must listen and ask questions when someone disagrees with us, instead of going on the attack or defense.  Here comes the mirror – do we look into the other’s mirror and become one with them or do we mirror back to them – what we create with our stance? Do we surprise others with our generosity? Can this generate a new generation of feminists? Of genderists….? Of human beings?

I absolutely was touched and troubled by all the dance performances and through the work of “Moving with the not-yet: choreographing with young people in space and time.” Something came out of my body with this embodied experience:  tears and sweat.  Fluids. It was really hot in that theatre. It is vital to become uncomfortable and comfortable with our bodies contacting us with the truth of our practices and theories. I somehow gazed into the abyss of so much emotion contained in the research by Renold, Ivinson and Anhgharad. This was too much/the unspoken excess needed to exit via a generous transmission of bodies.

Generosity and Viscous Porosity= the workshop by Carol Taylor and Nikki Fairchild played with our limits with “DIRT” – After the “theory” – the presenters presented us with bags and boxes containing dirt (teeth, hair, nails, etc.) and we engaged in a free-associative discussion about our reactions to these. I absolutely was fed with thought [–as the conversation somehow spiraled into “breastfeeding” and the role of the mother – whether it is natural or not – criticisms about discourses created- ] by what was said by the presenters : “Dirt is always with us” linked with what Marx has said (it was said) “the Poor are always with us”  and I must add “the Other is always with us.”

“Being Porous,” it was added, “is a good thing, skin is the boundary.”  A final entertainment of boundaries was discussed using Haraway’s concept of the cyborg (1984) – a little girl from Fairchild’s research working with a rice-tray that was one with her – as she was moving and going away and being with it at kindergarten school.

Playing. Punctuating, playing with punctuating. Playing with our bodies- with the bodies – with the body of this conference – in a manner that recognizes the validity of Other’s desires.  This text.

Somehow I have tried. In an incomplete manner and yet as complementary as I could and with EXCESS I had to process [one week I am unsure is enough to write into this].

I will finish off with a reference to our panel discussion on Day 2 – when Ileana, Hanna, Robin, Briony, and myself were put in discussion facilitated by Professor Miriam David. It was a joy to connect with all of the teachers/academics and to realize the many ways in which we are connected!  A true embodiment of “intimacies of solidarity” – which I have now experienced – and felt – not just thought about. This takes US back into the beginning of the cycle I have been writing into – : ultimately what we are seeking is a connection as human beings, as feminine<masculine<transgender<whatever the signifier. GEA conference 2017 absolutely and yet openly communicated this need to allow for connections rather than dismemberment and cut offs in both education and in our communities at large.  The matrixial borderspace of Ettinger (2006) comes to mind and something mentioned by Dr. Iris van der Tuin:

The phrase “You can’t challenge what remains unsaid,” which I heard in one of the sessions, made me curious.  What does it mean to “challenge”?

Can we challenge with the aim to return to each other rather than move away from?

Thank you all for openly connecting with me and disconnecting too.  Let me break the narrative of this blog post with my own “moral panic” –(using Jessica Ringrose’s phrase here, though not being unable to quote the paper) through the words of another:

“What is the agency of the one who registers the imprints from the other? This is not the agency of the ego, and neither is it the agency of one who is presumed to know. It is a registering and a transmutation that takes places in a largely, though not fully, preverball sphere, an autistic relay of loss and desire received from elsewhere, and only and always ambiguously made one’s own.” (Ettinger, 2006, p. xi)


Charalambous, Z. (2014). PhD Thesis. “A Lacanian Study of the Effects of Creative Writing Exercises: Writing Fantasies and the Constitution of Writer Subjectivity.” Institute of Education, University of London.

Ettinger, B. (2006).  The Matrixial Borderspace. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.

Žižek, S.( 2005). Neighbors and Other Monsters. In : S. Žižek, E. Santner and K. Reinhard (eds) The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology.  Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, pp. 134-190.

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