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Duration 51:26

When a woman is not a woman: how the Ministry of Pensions constructed gender in the 1950s

During the 1950s, the Ministry of Pensions was suddenly faced with a substantial number of requests by individuals to change their gender status on their employment and pension records. Why was this? How did the (slightly) bewildered men at the Ministry deal with these requests? What does this have to do with fashion models like Christine Jorgensen and April Ashley, and why does this 50-year-old problem still persist in 2011? Drawing on case studies, all of which are drawn from files at The National Archives, Dr Louise Chambers investigates these questions and attempts to offer some new insights into the issues they raised – which still have a bearing on contemporary questions about what constitutes a woman or a man.

Dr Louise Chambers is an associate lecturer in the Department of Media & Communications, Goldsmiths College, London. She is particularly interested in the gendered relations that emerge in and between theories of embodiment, psychology and the mass media.

This talk was part of our diversity week event in November, highlighting the diversity of The National Archives’ collection.