Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Why nakedness is an apt way to protest the Trump presidency

Barbara Brownie, University of Hertfordshire
Donald Trump’s road to the White House has been punctuated by as series of naked protests, ranging from topless women at Trump’s polling station to Spencer Tunick’s nude installation of 130 naked protesters outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. These protesters continue a long history of naked demonstration – and nakedness has long been employed as a gesture of defiance, highlighting the plight of the oppressed.

In a time when media is saturated with nudity, the naked body might seem to have lost its power. But amid fears that Trump’s administration will set back women’s rights by decades, naked protest may have regained relevance.

When 100 semi-naked protesters marched to Trump Tower on November 19, some presented their bodies as metaphors for the human planet, sensitive to climate change. Others used their bodies to express a fear that women, under Trump, would become a marginalised group. These protesters’ nudity is a defiant response to revelations during Trump’s campaign about his attitudes towards imperfect bodies, confronting Trump’s “man of the people” act by showing him what real America looks like. If Trump is to represent “ordinary Americans”, he must learn to accept them in all shapes and sizes.

But these were more than just naked bodies. Protesters had decorated their bodies with fake wounds and scars, representing the damage that Trump’s administration may cause. This is a warning that if the administration wields too much power, the powerless will suffer.

Trump’s election has left many Americans feeling overwhelmingly powerless. It would make sense, then, for them to resort to a method of protest that has long been associated with oppressed and minority groups. Undressing is a tool that is at almost any protester’s disposal: a last line of defence that is almost universally accessible. It is an act of defiance that is still available even to those who are disempowered by low status, by lack of funds, or simply by ordinariness. So Mexican farmers protesting government appropriation of their land in 1992 turned to naked protest as a last resort, explaining their action by saying “we are stripping because … we don’t have money to buy an ad in the news … we have no other arms, all we have are our bodies”. This movement, which became known as the 400 Pueblos, continues sporadically to this day.

Members of the social group 400 Pueblos (400 towns) protest in 2005. Iván Stephens/EPA

Human conflict is predicated upon the relational power of opposing parties. Power often stems from control of tangible resources, but is also exercised symbolically, through bodily gestures. Foucault’s writing on subjugation equates power to control of the body. In times of conflict, dominance is asserted through actions that demonstrate control over the “docile” bodies of others. Conversely, to evidence control over one’s own body in the face of an enemy is to maintain control over one’s dignity and identity.

Perhaps the most recognisable example of protest undressing is captured in Ladislav Bielik’s photograph of a man peacefully protesting the Soviet occupation on Czechoslovakian streets in 1968. The image shows him ripping open his shirt to reveal his bare chest, presenting it defiantly to an oncoming tank. His shirt rending is equivalent to the gesture of a raised fist, expressing a pent-up anger so overwhelming that it can no longer be contained internally, and is forced out of the body in the form of a visible gesture. When a bare chest is pressed against a canon, as in Bielik’s photograph, the stark inequality seems unfair. The conflict is revealed as unjust, with the opponents clearly presented as victim and oppressor.

Such gestures appear to transform the sight of a fragile, exposed body into a show of raw force, with the power to overcome the might of opposing forces.

Naked power

By undressing in public, protesters assert what little power they still have. Undressing is not just a means of removing clothes, but a meaningful gesture that expresses a shift in attitude from compliance to defiance. At the same time, it is a direct challenge to those, like Trump, who are prone to objectifying the female body.

Nakedness has been employed for similar purposes by Femen, in protests against objectification, specifically the feeling that women have been “stripped of ownership” of their own bodies. Femen exploit the power of nudity to counteract “ornamental meanings of female nakedness”, though not because they feel that nudity has innate power; they achieve power via, not through, naked flesh. These protesters present the body not as a passive, erotic object, but as an unpredictable, intimidating Other.

The otherness of the female form is dependent on its unfamiliarity. Historically, the female body has been strange and mysterious, and as a result have been the subject of numerous myths and misconceptions, some of which persist in the US today.

Women in Los Angeles demonstrate against the election of Donald Trump. Mike Nelson/EPA

Women of past centuries have been able to exploit the perception of their bodies as peculiar or even monstrous. The Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, for example, describes how, when he turns against his uncle King Conchobor during a bout of youthful revolt, the king sends out a company of women to “expose … their boldness to him”. The young warrior is so intimidated by what he sees that he retreats. Similarly, in Jean de La Fontaine’s The Devil of Pope Fig Island (1674), a woman is able to ward of the devil by flashing her “gash”. Believing the woman’s “gash” to be a wound inflicted by terrible violence, the demon imagines that the woman’s husband must be even more monstrous than he, and retreats in fear.

When their male suppressors are ignorant of the female body and what it can do, women like these can exploit rumour and misinformation to de-eroticise their bodies.

That is not to say that a body must be de-eroticised in order to become powerful. Indeed, there is tremendous power in the erotic presentation of the body, as any burlesque performer will attest. The upcoming World Burlesque Games will demonstrate how empowering it can be to invite objectification in the right setting. Audiences and performers of neo-burlesque locate striptease in a post-feminist world, in which bodies of all shapes, sizes and genders deserve to be the subject of an erotic gaze.

Anti-Trump protesters reveal that this post-feminist ideal is still a distant dream for mainstream America. The mere fact that their nudity attracts press attention is evidence that the US still lags behind more liberated parts of the world in their approach to female nakedness. If the Trump administration does set back feminism, as so many fear it will, naked protest will continue to be an appropriate and effective tool for America women over the course of his presidency. So long as the administration objectifies the female body, protesters will be able to use their own bodies to confront the status quo.

The Conversation
Barbara Brownie, Senior Lecturer in Visual Communication, University of Hertfordshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Blame the victim? Domestic violence as covered in The Sun and The Guardian

Michele Lloyd, University of Hertfordshire and Shulamit Ramon, University of Hertfordshire
Domestic violence is an enduring problem in the UK: an average of two women a week continue to be killed by their current or former partner. It’s a widespread and important story, and – like all news media – newspapers make a decision about how to report this issue.

But, unlike television and radio broadcasting, the print media in the UK is not required to be impartial. And although newspaper content is not necessarily absorbed uncritically by readers, the way editors and journalists frame news stories can influence the “take home” message communicated to readers.

We explored how The Sun and The Guardian reported domestic violence in 2001-2 and 2011-12 to evaluate evidence of change over a ten-year time span. The rationale for selecting these newspapers was based on their contrasting formats: The Sun is the biggest-selling newspaper in the UK, tabloid in style and traditionally right-of-centre politically, while The Guardian is a left-of-centre broadsheet with a far smaller circulation but a far larger online readership.

We studied both online and hard copy articles of the two papers: these included analyses of victims (predominantly women) and perpetrators (predominantly men). While The Guardian adopted a respectful position towards women victims, the textual and visual techniques adopted by The Sun reveal a tendency for victim blaming and, in some cases, giving character references for the perpetrators.

The stimulus for investigating newspaper reporting of domestic violence was a European Union funded project led by the University of Hertfordshire with partners in Greece, Italy, Poland and Slovenia, which researched the well-being of women experiencing both domestic violence and mental health issues.

The expressed guilt of the women participants made us consider what leads victims of this type of violence to accept guilt, blame and shame instead of holding perpetrators accountable. Given the influential role played by the media in both shaping and reflecting public opinion on issues such as domestic violence, this second project examining newspaper coverage of such violence was undertaken.

Laying the blame

The most commonly identified theme derived from our newspaper research was how The Sun appears to hold women responsible for their own abuse. Replete with descriptions of men who have killed their partners as “spurned lover”, “jilted lover” and “jealousy-crazed”, The Sun seems to be insinuating that the woman is culpable, partially at least, for her victimisation.

How The Sun reported the story. The Sun

A key case in point was a story reported from the island of Jersey where a man called Damian Rzeszowski killed his wife, Izabela, two children and his father-in-law as well as a family friend and her daughter. The Sun described how he “slaughtered six people at a family barbecue after he flipped over his wife’s affair”. This gave the impression that it was the woman’s alleged infidelity that triggered the bloodshed. The Sun describes Rzeszowski as a “doting dad” and Izabela as “cheating on him”, again denoting her as a blameworthy victim.

Similarly, when a father, Jean-Francis Say, fatally stabbed his two children, The Sun observed that his wife had left him for another man two years earlier, taking the children with her.

‘All his wife did was sleep and go to work’. The Sun

A neighbour was quoted saying that Say had told her he was always the one who did things for the children while “all his wife did was sleep and go to work”. The use of this quote appears to disparage a woman whose children have been killed.

When women kill

This contrasts with the description of “evil” Tracie Andrews, convicted of killing her boyfriend and subsequently in preparation for release from prison. Entitled “Evil Andrews serves up cuppas in a church cafe”, The Sun article juxtaposes her evilness with the sanctity of a church café and having a “cuppa”. Compare “evil”, redolent of internal, innate characteristics, with the descriptions of men who “snapped” or “flipped” and whose actions were “out of character”, thus suggestive of external, qualifying triggers.

Female killers treated differently in The Sun. The Sun

The Guardian does not tend to engage in a victim-blaming narrative, which is a key issue when trying to understand the reporting of domestic violence which ends in the death of one of the partners. Sandra Horley, the chief executive of Refuge – who has been a prominent advocate on this issue – states that domestic violence cases are not about one partner “losing [their] temper” or “flipping out”, they are about systematic control and abuse.

Domestic violence

When it comes to covering domestic violence as an issue, we found that The Guardian had consistently outnumbered The Sun in relation to the amount of articles published over the whole of our survey period.

How the two papers compare on domestic violence. Michele Lloyd and Shula Ramon, Author provided

A closer inspection also revealed that The Guardian’s coverage had far more in-depth analysis of domestic violence overall, while The Sun tended to report on individual cases in a sensational manner.

Domestic violence in the news is seldom framed as a societal public health issue – but rather an individualised problem or somehow precipitated by victims. Our research, book-ended by the years 2001-2 and 2011-12, found that the ten-year passage of time has diminished neither the medium nor the message of The Sun in terms of blaming victims, and reinforcing society’s normalisation of privatised violence as “just another domestic”.

To see a YouTube video about the article based on this research please click here.
The Conversation
Michele Lloyd, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Hertfordshire and Shulamit Ramon, Professor, Mental Health Research, University of Hertfordshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

How a culture of bullying is driving teachers from their jobs

Mary Thornton, University of Hertfordshire
Teachers have a lot to put up with at the moment in terms of workload and stress. But what may come as a surprise to some is that, just like in the playground, bullying can be a big problem in the teaching world.

Research shows that when a teacher is being bullied, the bully is often (but not always) the the head teacher – who is increasingly stressed and can sometimes take out their worries about Ofsted inspections on their staff.

And with this in mind, Dr Pat Bricheno and I recently studied the experiences of 39 bullied teachers in the UK. All became ill as a result of being bullied – mostly with anxiety, stress and depression. The symptoms they described included palpitations, shaking uncontrollably, crying a lot, drinking too much, raised blood pressure, and taking multiple medications.

We also heard about teachers who were getting so upset they were crying in their cupboards, while still on the job. This was due to an atmosphere of fear within their schools, and the extreme nervousness and stress it created for them. One primary school teacher told us:
People felt under pressure, I saw people crying in the corridors, people upset, it was a very difficult time.
In another case, a teacher remembers being in a similar school where the headteacher was bullying staff:
The school had a huge staff turnover, which always rings alarm bells. Every week there would be a member of staff crying in the stock cupboard, or sobbing in the corner of the staff room.
Virtually all of the teachers we spoke to required extensive periods of sick leave, and most ended up leaving the schools where they were bullied. Some simply gave notice, others left through early retirement or redundancy, many of them on “compromise agreements”. Some made new careers for themselves in related educational fields, but nearly one third left teaching completely and forever.

Schooling Stress

While the impact of Ofsted inspections on headteacher behaviour could be a factor in all of this, it is unlikely to be the only explanation. This is because what we have at the moment is an education system with expectations, rules and procedures that lend themselves to heightened stress levels among staff – and, potentially, the empowerment of bullies.

Constant surveillance of teachers – through Ofsted inspections, target setting and box-ticking checklists – is the norm in schools. This is alongside formal, regular observations and increasingly frequent unannounced “learning walks”. This is where line managers or headteachers can wander along corridors and through classrooms observing and appraising what teachers are doing. And while many headteachers and line managers use and manage these parts of teaching life well – to support their staff and enhance pupil learning – they can also be misused and abused.

Recently, a number of teachers discussed bullying on a teaching community website. They said:
Being lied about, lied to, belittled, vilified and put down in public, being plotted against, told whatever you did wasn’t right, wasn’t enough, was wrong. Is that bullying? (foxtail3)
I consider the whole “appraisal” and “capability” system to be a bullies charter … it systematises and codifies their actions … legitimising them. (Ianokia)
And bullied teachers who spoke to us reported many similar experiences. The expectations, rules and procedures that dominate education today include “capability proceedings” – a formal procedure that employers must follow if they have concerns about a teacher’s performance or competence. It should not be used in cases of ill health but it can be evoked to address a particular teacher’s shortcomings.

Teachers spoke about not being able to cope with the culture in their school. Shutterstock

Being put on “capability” should actually mean being given clear targets, and specific school-based help to develop and improve. It is a tool designed to address competence and performance issues, not to manipulate teachers into leaving. But our research shows that capability proceedings are being used by some headteachers as a weapon to get rid of teachers who have not failed, who have done nothing wrong, and who have actually met targets and helped pupils achieve their potential.

In this scenario, an exit with an accompanying threat of a poor reference, or no reference at all, could and likely would end that teacher’s career, unless the teacher concerned agrees to leave voluntarily – before such procedures are invoked.

Stronger Together?

It is clear from our research that when it comes to the issue of staff bullying, support from others is vital if teachers are going to survive. So getting together with other bullied teachers, and taking a joint complaint to the unions – who will act on your behalf – can be a very effective way forward.

But too often colleagues are fearful that they may be the next to be bullied if they step out of line, which can make joint action difficult. There are, however, other organisations that can and will help.

Bullied teachers don’t need to feel alone. Shutterstock

Occupational Health Services offer valuable support to bullied teachers who are also ill. While the Educational Support Partnership, an independent charity, offers a free help line along with individual support for victims.

But unfortunately, as researchers in this area, Pat and I are unable to offer any real hope for the current future. Because it is likely that the bullying of teachers will remain a problem in schools for as long as the government, Ofsted, and league tables continue to operate in ways that seem to encourage and facilitate it.

The Conversation
Mary Thornton, Professor emeritus, University of Hertfordshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Improving gender equality is the key to tackling Britain’s male teacher shortage

Joanne McDowell, University of Hertfordshire
As it currently stands, less than 13% of the UK’s primary school teachers are male. A lot of this is down to the fact that primary teaching continues to be seen as a job only suitable for women. “Feminine” characteristics such as “caring” are seen as central to the role, and Western society mainly still envisions that it is only women – and not men – who possess such qualities.

So here lies part of the problem. While women have long been rightly told that they can be what they want to be – that they can enter into traditional “men’s work” – and to not let their gender prevent them from doing so, we have not seen the same push for men. Indeed, men who do enter into so-called “female” professions often report challenges to their masculinity. They are often labelled by society as “gay”, “unmanly”, or even as sexual predators.

This almost total absence of male teachers in many UK primary schools has led to the suggestion that girls continue to outperform boys in the classroom because of the “feminisation” of the teaching profession – which has provided boys with too few male role models.

It has also been suggested that more men are needed in the classroom to enforce “tougher” discipline, with women stereotyped as having a more “liberal” style when it comes to classroom management. But recent research actually shows that women also use “tough” discipline, just like men.

Talk the talk

Although previous research has examined “teaching” from a gender perspective, male teachers’ linguistic behaviour – how they interact with the children they teach – remains largely ignored. And with this in mind, I have recently conducted research into three London Primary schools – looking at how male and female primary school teachers actually interact with their students in the classroom.
Collecting data from both male and female teachers across several days of teaching, it was shown that both men and women use “masculine” strategies to carry out classroom management. This includes the use of direct orders and strict discipline.

Forget the stereotypes, women can be just as tough as the men in the classroom. Shutterstock

And despite popular assumptions, it was shown that both men and women also use “feminine” or more “liberal” styles to discipline their students, with great success. This included softening criticism, mitigating orders and hinting at bad behaviour. In fact, it was men who were shown to do this more than women – showing how both male and female teachers use the stereotyped language style of the “other” sex. And this was also shown to be the same in earlier research I carried out looking at the linguistic behaviour of male nurses.

This strongly points to the need to move away from the stereotype that women linguistically behave in one way, and men in another. Gender is a “cultural construct”, and language is something we use to “perform” our identity. We can be both masculine and feminine, depending on what our current context requires, or even demands.

So what these teachers are doing is simply using speech styles that are effective. They are “doing” being an effective teacher, and gender should not be seen as a prerequisite for this effectiveness. Teachers must adapt their styles to suit both the situation in the classroom – and the child they are working with. This is what makes an effective teacher, and this is far more important than teacher gender.

Tackling gender roles

So while it is clear that we do need more men in the classroom, this is not because they can offer something women teachers cannot. Qualified male teachers are simply needed to tackle the deficit of primary school teachers that Britain – like so many other countries – is experiencing.

We just need more teachers … male or female. Shutterstock

But this is not an easy task because primary school teaching is still seen as “women’s work” – which can often act to deter men from taking up the role. This can only be tackled if the longstanding assumptions that men and women cannot, or should not, undertake certain roles because of their gender are challenged.
Jobs, and all that they entail, must be de-gendered. And current research, including my own, may enable us to take a step towards this goal – and encourage more men to become primary school teachers.

The Conversation
Joanne McDowell, Principal Lecturer in English Language and Communication, University of Hertfordshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Britain’s needless kick in the teeth for its struggling steel mills

Chris McLachlan, University of Hertfordshire and Ian Greenwood, University of Leeds
It seemed like an easy win. Just as the UK wrestled with the economic fallout from the Brexit vote, the government had a chance to offer a fillip to one of the country’s struggling industries. But alongside news that work on the £41 billion fleet of Trident nuclear submarines would start at BAE Systems in Cumbria, came an announcement that France would be providing the steel. Rarely has salt been so liberally applied to an open wound.

Back in July, MPs voted for the renewal of Trident by a huge majority. The debate included a lengthy discussion of the implications that voting against would have on jobs. Unions came out in favour of renewal given the thousands of jobs and the communities potentially affected in the defence industry, but also up the supply chain to industries like steel.

Members of a parliamentary group which looks at the steel industry explicitly addressed the potential for UK steel if it were used at a recent debate in Westminster Hall. This came after an earlier statement from Prime Minister Theresa May, during which she assured MPs that it would be used where it presented “good value”. Senior officials from the steelworkers’ union, Community, have argued that using UK steel could have saved 1,000 jobs and helped to reopen the Scunthorpe plate mill which was mothballed in October 2015.

The Tata steel plant in Port Talbot, Wales. EPA/ANDY RAIN

The only glimmer of hope has come from Ministry of Defence statements claiming that British steel will be used in later stages of the Trident programme

 Pedal to the metal

There have been some positive developments in the steel industry. Investment firm Greybull Capital acquired the Scunthorpe plant and launched under the name British Steel in June this year. UK based steel product group Liberty House reopened the Dalzell plant in Lanarkshire at the end of September, saving a number of the jobs initially affected. In truth, though, the UK steel industry has been in crisis since mid-2015, when Tata Steel announced 720 job losses at their Rotherham plant. Since then, capacity has been taken out and thousands of jobs have been cut along with the closure of the SSI plant in Teeside.

Of course, this reflects a longer trend of employment contraction in the UK steel industry since the 1980s, and following privatisation in 1988. More pressure was clearly piled on by the 2008 financial crisis. Since then, the industry has desperately sought support from the government to address issues such as Chinese dumping of cheap steel, and high energy prices and business rates compared to European rivals.

Supply glut. EPA/MARK

A coalition of MPs, unions and industry bodies has sought to address the growing crisis with a demand for five urgent actions from government. These involved action on anti-dumping, blocking moves to give China the status to avoid tariffs on exports, a level playing field on business rates, R&D investment into the sector, and environmental improvements. The government also recommended that the National Infrastructure Commission looks closely at procurement of British steel in major domestic construction projects.

Past procurement issues have been highlighted in debates, such as the use of foreign steel for the new Forth Bridge in Scotland and in wind turbine blades. This was characterised as a missed opportunity to support the UK steel industry, and safeguard jobs and related communities. And it isn’t like it can’t happen. The recent award of the steel contract for Hinkley Point nuclear plant to Welsh firm Celsa Steel demonstrates that commitments to local procurement can be achieved.

As parliament wrestled with the UK steel crisis, it was difficult, if not impossible, to find an MP not in agreement with the strategic importance of the industry. Government even championed these new procurement rules whereby decisions must take into consideration the potential impacts on society, jobs and staff safety in the development of major construction projects involving steel.

Specific procurement guidelines now “encourage” government departments to take into account the social impact of competing suppliers. The policy seems to already be broken. Trident only illustrates that it needs to become mandatory. The main industry body, UK Steel, is urging Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to move in this direction.

Greg Clark faces calls for action. EPA/ANDY RAIN

Skill sets

BAE Systems has claimed the French steel represents 0.5% of the whole value of the Trident project, but this still equates to roughly £150m of missed business. While the specific costs and benefits cannot be precisely determined, the steel industry is of national significance. Geographically skewed to industrial areas of the country such as Wales, the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East, it is responsible for the retention of relatively high-paid, high-skill jobs in areas that are deindustrialising.

When steel plants close or cut capacity, those workers exit employment or are reemployed in lower skilled, lower paid jobs. Economic demand is sucked out of an area and its skill base denuded. The prospect of an economic rebalancing around low pay, low skill, and low value added becomes very real. It has been estimated that typically for every steel worker made redundant, the exchequer loses £10,000 of revenue and welfare costs increase by £10,000. This is in no one’s interest.

As controversial as the Trident project is in many quarters, if it is to go ahead then the decision not to award the contracts for steel to UK producers is bewildering. It seems to reflect an enduring belief in the ability of an unfettered market not to fail. Meaningful industrial strategy requires intervention. If Greg Clark wants credibility for himself and his department, public contracts need to be revisited, procurement protocols made mandatory and an assurance given that a decision such as that around Trident will not be repeated. The history of the European steel industry is one of continual state intervention: nothing has changed other than the economic precipice on which the UK steel industry now finds itself.

The Conversation
Chris McLachlan, Senior Lecturer Human Resources, University of Hertfordshire and Ian Greenwood, Associate Professor in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management, University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Why we should welcome the return of ‘Old Stinker’, the English werewolf

Sam George, University of Hertfordshire

Over the last few months there has been something of a folk panic in Yorkshire, northern England, following reported sightings of an eight-foot werewolf with a very human face.

The werewolf “Old Stinker”, also known as “The Beast of Barmston Drain” is not a recent phenomenon – it was first reported in the 18th century. But these sightings – concentrated around the town of Hull – are especially intriguing considering that English folklore is rather barren of werewolf stories. Most wolves were extirpated from England under the Anglo-Saxon kings and so ceased to be an object of dread to the people (though wolves did in fact survive in the UK up until the 1500s). So what could be behind these new werewolf sightings?

In literature, accounts of lycanthropy – humans transforming into werewolves – can be traced back to the epic of Gilgamesh in 2100BC, whereas wolf fables begin with Aesop’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf, which was written at some point between 620 and 520 BC. Voluntary lycanthropy does appear from time to time – Virgil’s Eclogues are thought to be the first such account (42-39 BC), but becoming a werewolf is more commonly seen as “a curse” or a sign of bestiality, or at worst of cannibalism.

A werewolf devouring a woman. From a XIX c. engraving. Mansell Collection, London.

Most people have heard of witchcraft trials but werewolf trials are less well known – and those who were executed in werewolf trials in 16th and 17th-century France were believed to have a taste for human flesh. But these cannibalistic fears died down with the rise of psychoanalysis in the 19th century, when lycanthropy came to more commonly represent the “beast within” or everything animal that we have repressed in terms of our human nature.

History, then, provides us with two possible answers as to why people might think they’ve spotted werewolves in the English countryside. The first is a fear of violence, manifesting in anxieties around cannibalism. The second is a return of the repressed (perhaps the population of Hull are having a particularly Freudian spell?).

Needless to say, I cannot support these theories. I would argue instead that the answer lies in our cultural understanding of the werewolf and its connection to our native wolves. By reconsidering these primal links, we can begin to understand why people think they see werewolves – and this is pertinent to the appearance of Old Stinker himself.



It is important to consider the werewolf as the spectre brother or shadow self of the wolf and to perceive the history of lycanthropy as being inextricably bound up with humankind’s treatment of wolves. For example, the case of Peter Stumpf, who was executed in Germany for being a werewolf in 1589, gained much noteriety in 16th-century Britain. It is notable that this interest corresponds with the extinction of the wolf in England in the 1500s.

Back to today. In 2015 the Open Graves, Open Minds project hosted the first international conference on werewolves at the University of Hertfordshire. This research drew attention to attempts to rewild the wolf in the UK and scholars began to question what would happen if wolves returned to our forests, as was prominent in associated media reports.

Our collaborations with the UK Wolf Trust generated further discussions around the possibility of rewilding large species in Britain including wolves and lynx. It is in this climate that new sightings of the Hull werewolf had begun to appear.

Who wants to re-wolf Britain? Nadezda Murmakova/Shutterstock

In July of this year newspapers reported that Old Stinker was terrorising women with his human face and very, very, bad breath (hence his name). The two most recent sightings were reported on in August: “Woman met eight-foot werewolf with human face” proclaimed the Metro newspaper. A full-scale werewolf hunt ensued after Old Stinker was spotted prowling an industrial estate. The werewolf had apparently eaten a German Shepherd dog and was seen leaping over fences like a modern day Spring-Heeled Jack (the folk devil that plagued Victorian London).


Wolf guilt

Importantly, Old Stinker supposedly inhabits a landscape that is thought to have seen some of the last UK wolves. So the emergence of the Hull werewolf can reopen debates about the spectre werewolf’s relationship to the flesh and blood wolf. This coincides with a phase of severe environmental damage. It has not taken the form of sudden catastrophe, but rather a slow grinding away of species. The result is a landscape constituted more actively by what is missing than by what is present, a “spectred”, rather than “a sceptered isle”. He represents not only a nation’s belief in him as a supernatural shapeshifter, but its collective guilt at the extinction of an entire indigenous species of wolf.

Far from dismissing the myth, my instincts are to embrace it and see it as a response to our cultural memory around what humans did to wolves.

The Old Stinker story tells us that belief in werewolves lives on beyond the actual lives of the wolves that were thought to inspire them. Rather than being dismissed as a rather fishy tale, Old Stinker can activate the wolf warrior in all of us and allow us to lament the last wolves that ran free in English forests. Far from being a curse, he is a gift: he can initiate rewilding debates and redeem the big bad wolf that filled our childhood nightmares, reminding us that it is often humans, not wolves or the supernatural, that we should be afraid of.

The Conversation
Sam George, Senior Lecturer in Literature, University of Hertfordshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bodymindfulness, physiology and self-regulation: An innovative research-informed treatment to support self-management for people with hard-to-explain chronic bodily symptoms

Professor Helen Payne, School of Education

Bodily symptoms which are hard-to-explain medically have a significant physiological aspect which may not be effectively addressed by verbal/cognitive approaches, i.e. top down methods.

Many people who do try psychological therapy for their bodily symptoms do not find sustained relief, becoming symptomatic again 6 months after treatment.

The specific neuropathology of hard-to-explain pain symptoms queries the efficacy of talking therapies as the sole form of treatment. Research suggests that body-based approaches are important to consider because they appear to support the necessary neuro-plastic changes required to bring about short-term symptom relief and long-term effective treatment.

The BodyMind Approach™ is emerging as one of the most significant body based treatments. It was designed specifically for chronic unexplainable bodily symptoms due to its profound impact on the nervous system, combined with its focus on gentle and graded body awareness through mindful-movement. It is a form of bottom up self-regulation and, consequently, an integrative therapy for body and mind, feelings and thoughts, imagination and creativity/expression.

Experiencing the inter-connection between our minds and bodies can help with the treatment of these unexplained ‘physical’ symptoms

Our bodies and minds are profoundly inter-related, and complementary aspects of being human. Neuroscience research tells us that our thoughts are governed by our emotions, which are, in turn, grounded in our bodies. If we can learn to explore the emotional content of our physical symptoms, even understand their purpose perhaps, we are more likely to be able to self-manage them.

Our emotional distress, such as when we are fearful, anxious or depressed often disconnects us from others. We are told that these feelings mean we are unwell in our mental health, in our minds. This distress is seen as separate and distinct from physical symptoms in our bodies, our physical health. We have a mental and physical healthcare system, without a connection between the two. Symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome, ME, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, asthma or eczema are understood to mean that we are unwell in our bodies.

However, ground-breaking research demonstrates that there is a complex and dense inter-connectedness between the brain and the body, meaning that the split between body and mind in medicine is unhelpful. The brain is entwined with the whole body through the nervous system via the spinal cord for example, including all the systems, organs, musculature, liquids and chemicals constantly influencing the brain. There actually is no separation between body and mind.

Your whole being is ever changing; new pathways are forming in your brain as you read this. We are dynamically predisposed to all influences. We can become hyper- (over) aroused or hypo- (under) aroused at any one time. We can freeze – becoming rigid in body and mind, or be shut down and numb. When balanced in body and mind we can feel peaceful and connected with ourselves and others. Learning to listen to our bodies, to the signals termed symptoms, such as pain or other physical symptoms, can help us to regulate ourselves.

We can use bodily symptoms as a gateway to the self-healing/management of conditions by accepting that both body and mind are connected to the point of being one and the same. Awareness practices to support feelings of wellbeing and resilience to cope with unexplained symptoms such as pain, and life events including trauma, can help us to learn that both body and mind are connected, enabling us to feel more in control of our unexplained symptoms, pain and our feelings of depression and anxiety, promoting feelings of wellbeing. If we are able to re-connect our body with our mind we discover powerful insights and practical skills to help us associate intensely with our body as a source of effective knowledge and healing potential - our body wisdom. Accessing this source of wisdom can help us to transcend many common, yet challenging, physical and emotional issues. This embodied, enactive approach is a new and exciting, emergent field. Professionals including doctors, psychologists, neuroscientists, researchers, movement psychologists, counsellors/psychotherapists in the health care and wellbeing fields are becoming much more aware of the role our bodies play in emotional distress. The secrets for transforming our relationship with our body in a holistic way can be learned so that we can experience more life force energy, creativity and resilience on a sustained basis over time.

Research at the University of Hertfordshire has demonstrated that posture and movement can help increase wellbeing and prevent pain. For example, if you stand, balanced between your two feet hip width apart with knees slightly bent, holding your head high, bending and stretching your knees and swinging your arms gently around your torso in a co-ordinated rhythm for a sustained period of time you will generate chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins zoom around making you feel less down so you can do more. This increased activity level then results in a spiral upwards towards feelings of wellbeing. Furthermore, these endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of physical pain, increasing still further your activity levels.

This and other insights into the body~mind connection have contributed to the development of a research-informed clinical service, Pathways2Wellbeing, a group process for the treatment of unexplained physical symptoms. www.pathways2wellbeing.com

How it works

The BodyMind Approach™ is a proven path of coaching to help people cope better with hard-to-explain bodily symptoms such as ME; fibromyalgia; IBS; chronic pain; fatigue; palpitations; tinnitus; skin conditions; backache; headache etc. It is based on 12 sessions of group work as well as individual coaching, monitoring and non-face to face contact over 6 months post group. In as little as 2 hours over 12 sessions the participant is taken step by step through a carefully structured sequence of guided meditations and easy movement exercises.

Whatever the source of the distress whether it is the bodily symptoms themselves or work/family/financial/relationship pressures making them worse (or triggering them) this new approach offers tools for people to feel more in control and attain a new level of physical and emotional wellbeing.

The approach creates opportunities for self-reflection to gain a new understanding to learn new coping skills and how to put them into action over the post group period. Each course covers a range of topics including our relationship with, and attitudes towards, our bodies; attitudes towards mental and physical distress; the impact of distressing symptoms on the autonomic nervous system: what actually happens physiologically; the freeze, flight, faint, fight responses, dissociation from our bodies and disempowerment; stress-related dys-ease; chronic pain - opening and closing the ‘pain gate'; somatisation - what happens when feelings are not felt/expressed?; body memory: the body remembers … but how?; recovery and hope - what can we actually do?