#LeaderImage – Exploring, analysing and challenging attitudes towards gender and leadership in images of politicians in the digital age

Day: Thursday 5 April


Fern Insh (Courtauld Institute of Art)
Kevin Guyan (Equality Challenge Unit)

Session Abstract

During the 2017 UK General Election campaign, Theresa May presented herself as ‘strong and stable’ to try and convince the public she was a suitable Prime Minister. May’s inference of physically masculine attributes was an attempt to instill confidence. Her actions resonate with themes discussed in Wendy Brown’s Manhood and Politics: A Feminist Reading of Political Theory. In response to a culture whereby masculinity equates good leadership, digitally literate individuals are increasingly manipulating images of politicians to convey opinions on projected gender identities. For example, in 2017, supporters of Jeremy Corbyn Photoshopped his head onto the muscular body of James Bond, while doubters superimposed his face onto ‘weak and wobbly’ jelly. Using screen grabs, captions, memes or, like these examples, Photoshop, some individuals feel liberated to create an online war of pictures, informed by ideas regarding gender and leadership, in the run up to elections and referendums.

This session is an interdisciplinary summit engineered to highlight how femininity is portrayed and usually attacked in political imagery – official and homemade – in the UK and abroad. In addition to case studies analysing images produced during the Scottish Independence Referendum (2014) and the recent UK General Election (2017), papers also explore political imagery in Ireland and the USA. The actions of 21st-century digital-image manipulators are placed in various contexts – historically, politically and in artistic practice – throughout the session. There is also exploration of the ‘culture of celebrity’ and its impact on elections, public opinion and gender stereotypes. Finally, this session questions whether it is the role of art historians today to help others navigate a largely confusing post-truth, image-saturated world.

Speakers & Papers

Fern Insh (Courtauld Institute of Art) Sexy Sturgeon and Butch Ruth: Digitally manipulated images, genderbashing and politics in the imagery of a divided nation

Kevin Guyan (Equality Challenge Unit) Reflecting on the Discipline: Gender, leadership and power in the history of art

Edwin Coomasaru (Courtauld Institute of Art) Gendering the 2017 UK General Election: Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and digital culture

Eva Garau (Università degli Studi di Cagliari) The Trojan horse of Femininity from Thatcher to May: Female leaders and gender bias during elections and beyond

Yuwei Ge (Philipps-Universität Marburg) Through the Looking Glass: Women and leadership in the post-truth era

Timothy Ellis (Teeside University) ‘De Valera’s Gains’: Imagining masculinity in Irish political cartoons

Phoebe Cunningham (Independent artist) The War for the Public Character: The power of image and fictioning and the consequences of multiple authors in a post-truth society

Mark Wheeler (London Metropolitan University) Celebrity ‘Outsider’ Politicians in the Digital Realm: Donald Trump’s 2016 US Presidential campaign and first year in office.