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From Punk to the Hijab: Women's Embodied Dress as Performative Resistance, 1970s to the Present

My research investigates how British women since the 1970s have used dress to construct alternative or counter-cultural identities as forms of resistance to dominant socio-cultural discourse about the female subject and femininity. Its main focus is on the embodied subjective agency of women as performative, which is, as constituted through the interplay of body in time and space, rather than as stable and ontological. The research looks to examine how the ‘de-stable’ resisting subject challenges power structures through dress in terms of embodied, spatial, temporal and psychic processes of subversion.

The core of the analysis pivots around the dress practices of four case studies: women punks from 1976–80, women who lived at Greenham Common peace camp between 1981–86, women in rave culture and hip hop from the mid-80s through the 1990s, and British Muslims who wear the veil between 2001–9. The case studies are deliberately disparate but are united by the fact that they all challenge normative ideals about the female subject and femininity through performative techniques and strategies generated through women’s experience and situated knowledge. Furthermore, as my research will show, I argue that the case studies overlap and influence each other, even though the connections between them are at times obscure and opaque.

Although the project is a historical study over a thirty-year period it does not seek to provide a teleological historical narrative but rather to give a layered and complex account of history by investigating women’s subjectivity within their individual temporal frames; for example, apocalyptic time for punks, utopian time for Greenham Women, Islamic revivalism for Muslim women.  In this way I hope to provide a postmodern narrative that understands time and space as layered and cyclical constructs and women’s identities as fluid, mobile. Alongside there will be a detailed exploration of oral histories as well as media and personal images, to examine how women’s dress in the everyday is used to create rupture, to subvert, to construct alternative subjectivities. My aim is to engender original analysis regarding the resisting subject.