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My Dissertation Story


So a few weeks ago I wrote about books that are missing from my feminist bookshelf. In that post, I discuss the fact that I wrote my Masters’ dissertation on gender performance and some of you were intrigued! I was flattered, of course, I would never have thought people would be interested in hearing about boring academic subjects 😉

So today I thought I would share my dissertation story – but I warn you, it’s a weird one (and a long one too)!

At the School of English of St Andrews, dissertation topics are expected sometimes in April. I thought about it all year and I really wasn’t too sure. I couldn’t pinpoint something fascinating enough for me to spend months working on! One of my favourite kinds of novels is bildungsroman, or coming-of-age stories in other terms. In my undergrad, I had studied a lot the societal expectations in which children, mainly girls, grow with and how that affected them. I thought that could be interesting. But I still couldn’t pinpoint something more specific.

Finally, after meetings with two supervisors, I settled on ‘motherhood’ as a broad subject. That was in April. They said that after the semester was over, in May, we could discuss it again more and find a better topic. I was assigned an amazing supervisor – a leader in her field and seriously an inspiring writer and academic.

After a discussion and some weeks of me researching the topic, I abandoned it. I wasn’t inspired and I didn’t want to spend months worrying about something that wasn’t even dear to my heart. I tried to find a second topic. I searched and searched. Then I did probably the most ridiculous move of my career, I pitched a Harry Potter themed dissertation topic to my supervisor. Not gonna lie, it started as a bit of a joke when I was talking with some friends. Like ‘hey Camila, you’re so obsessed with HP, wouldn’t it be so funny if you did your dissertation on it?’ and we all laughed. But I guess the idea stuck in my mind. I sincerely thought that I had found a cool topic – it was about the mother figures in the HP series and their roles as mothers vs warriors and where that leads them in the story.

….but my supervisor said no.

I get it. I get it. I mean, you might also be judging me right now, but I understood that my supervisor had a good point. Most of the academic papers written on HP are actually terrible – which I realised after reading a few articles on the matter. I think it would still have been a pretty cool idea, but I knew that she was right.

After a few days of desperation, I finally came up with the perfect topic. A mere weeks before, I had given, perhaps, the best presentation of my entire life. I was nervous, but it was still the most comfortable I have felt giving an academic presentation. I had presented for 15-20 minutes on gender vs body expectations in dance. It was by far my best mark of the year!

I thought that I would get inspired by this subject and discuss gender performance and the spectatorial gaze in ballet. It was quickly approved by my supervisor. The School of English is really cool and they were super open to students writing on other mediums than books and so I decided to use two movies as texts for my research.

I don’t think I will get into the details of this big piece of writing, but here is my abstract directly out of my dissertation.

Black Swan is an American psychological drama that came out in 2010 and Billy Elliot is a British comedic-drama released in 2000. While the former follows a ballerina working to achieve perfection, the latter follows a young boy’s discovery and pursuit of ballet. Stereotypes regarding ballet dancers have permeated dance films for the past decades and these two films have taken those stereotypes and decided to question and challenge them instead of simply portraying them. With gender theories from Judith Butler and Anne Fausto-Sterling and gaze theory based off Laura Mulvey’s claims on visual pleasure in cinema, this dissertation will examine the way the gaze (of family, directors, self and audience) influences the gender performance of the films’ protagonists Nina and Billy. The world of ballet maintains certain traditions regarding gender roles and views of masculinity and femininity, and the cinematic gaze, as claimed by Mulvey, also centers on the heteronormative binary opposition of male/active and female/passive. This dissertation will also investigate whether these films are successful in challenging the norms that the world they are portraying perpetuates.

I spent a month researching and reading. I spent about a week planning out my dissertation – which is so hard because before jumping fully into this dissertation, I kind of didn’t know where it was heading. As I’ve mentioned before, I wrote my first draft almost entirely by hand while in Spain! I finished it by August and spent that month editing. Editing was by far, the worst process!

Finally, on the 23rd of August of 2013, I submitted my dissertation. I walked into the secretary’s office with T and N and we took whisky shots at 11AM to celebrate the end! I quickly thereafter sent this photo to my parents. Don’t I look so proud?!

Photo on 23-08-2013 at 15.01

 What do you think of my dissertation? What was yours about?xx

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