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Picture Piece: Stuart Hall with Sleeping Child

Decoding the image of Stuart Hall manning a crèche at the Women’s Liberation Movement conference

A few months ago, this image of the late Stuart Hall, cultural theorist and political activist, appeared on my Twitter feed. Lying half-supine in light-coloured pants, a barely read newspaper cast to one side, Hall looks like he could be on a beach with a sleeping child slung across his chest.

‘Stuart Hall manning the crèche at the first Women’s conference at Ruskin College, Oxford, in 1970 ’ read the tweet bannering the image. The use of the noxious verb ‘manning’ and the truncation of the conference’s full name aside, the problem with this interpretation is the fist-bump emoji. Hall is conducting the basic human task of childcare: why does this appear so radical in 2017?

A friend suggested that the scene is being viewed as a utopia. It is meant to remind us of the revolutionary ideas, such as the conference crèche, which never came to pass. Indeed, I’ve never seen a crèche at a conference. One of the tricky things about claiming this image as utopian is that utopias tend to ignore infrastructural details such as childcare, meal preparation and rubbish removal. They imagine a world in which such things just happen, seamlessly, without notice or concern.

Look closer into the background of this image. There is a woman, her back to the camera, body bent over a child, reading perhaps. I wonder how many books, albums, artworks, made by men and women, have been assisted by labour such as this – invisible, unacknowledged, unpaid? Taken out of its private archive and posted for public celebration, this image centres a male scholar as a leftist hero to women, when what he is doing should be seen as merely routine. I can only imagine Hall would be horrified to be cast in such a light. Men should care for children without expecting credit. Once they do, perhaps we can finally begin to imagine a more ambitious and inspiring utopia for people of all genders. This is what the Women’s Liberation Movement conference – its full title – was all about.

Stephanie DeGooyer is assistant professor of English at Willamette University, USA. Her book, The Right To Have Rights, co-authored with Alastair Hunt, Lida Maxwell and Sam Moyn, is forthcoming from Verso Books. Follow her @Stevie_DG

Main image: Stuart Hall at the Women’s Liberation Movement Conference crèche, Ruskin College, Oxford, 1970. Courtesy: © Sally Fraser/Photofusion

Issue 189

First published in Issue 189

September 2017
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