The family and, in particular, maternal behaviour, has long been subject to public scrutiny. However, since the mid-1990s heightened government and media concern with parenting practices has produced a series of escalating moral panics around child welfare issues. While overt parent-bashing and bewailing the demise of the ‘traditional’ family were once associated with the moral majority in the US and old-style Conservatives in the UK, government intrusion into and commentary on family life has become increasingly central to the discourse of all mainstream political parties. The assumption parental incompetency– rather than broader socio-economic conditions–is responsible for a range of social problems has been reflected in public policy and the rise of media commentary (in current affairs journalism and reality TV), on the subject of modern parenting.
What does gender mean in an age defined by post-feminist ideologies, and in cultures that have been ‘sexualised’? Women may have been gaining economic, social and cultural entitlements in recent years, but post-Fordist economies continue to exploit gender inequalities. And whilst a variety of ‘new femininities’ have promised freedoms and opportunities, they have also articulated further responsibilities associated with being a woman in the twenty-first century. Similarly, the increasing visibility of so-called ‘softer’ masculinities and the continuing appeal of the metrosexual man seem to signal transformations in the idea of what it means to be a man. Yet such opportunities for softness and flexibility are unevenly available in economic conditions designed to install an equality of inequality. If men are becoming softer and women more post-feminist, how are we to understand the position of queer identities? Is homosexuality ‘disappearing’ in the drive towards homonormativity? Is there a place for gender dissent in lesbian and gay cultures, or do challenges to binary constructions of gender and domestic nuclearity no longer have any meaning in an era of gay marriage?
Presented in association with Iniva, the fourth and final event in the Centre for Cultural Studies Research seminar series Culture & Polity explores the question of public policy. As the government’s austerity drive continues to whittle away arts funding while ministers question the very value of the arts, how should artists and arts bodies respond? What might a progressive arts policy look like? Is Britain’s cultural and creative sector under threat. Or will hard times inspire aesthetic and political radicalism?