Cultural, Linguistic and Literary Approaches to Narratives of Femininity
Edited By Tiina Mäntymäki, Marinella Rodi-Risberg and Anna Foka
‘Foremost in Violence and Ferocity’: Women Singing at Work in Britain
← 190 | 191 → Gerald Porter
As forms of cultural expression that are largely outside the authoritative discourse, vernacular songs have long contributed, and still contribute, to the articulation of a consciousness of group identity. They can be said to be largely functional in that they fill a group need, whether expressed or not, to articulate shared concerns, and consequently resistance, solidarity and struggle are recurrent themes. This study shows how songs about women’s daily work (including unpaid work) have a specific role in developing cohesion and resisting perceived threats from outside.
Taking examples from Britain, this study decentres much earlier work on the vernacular song by examining the ways working women have performed or enjoyed music in groups, often with repertoires of songs which showed them resisting constraints or displacing men in their traditional occupations. Strikes and resistance calls by women gave rise to numerous songs, which form the material part of this study. These songs empowered the women, who, being the central figures by virtue of their work, were clearly the initiators of the action. Since the songs were known to be ephemeral, they were largely improvised rather than finished products, often drawing on the melodies of other well-known radical or popular songs. In a gender study such as this, deviance obviously implies not only divergence from socially constructed norms but also appropriation of the gender roles of others. By incorporating such elements of the other transgressively, their deviance first exposed normative binaries...
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