Author Margot Mifflin Explores the History of Women’s Tattoos during the 2016 Penn State Behrend Gender Conference

Categories:  Events    Arts & Culture/Entertainment    Opinion
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 at 4:00 PM
Author Margot Mifflin Explores the History of Women’s Tattoos during the 2016 Penn State Behrend Gender Conference by Dan Schank

Each year, Penn State Behrend’s annual Gender Conference allows students, faculty, regional scholars, and noteworthy guests to cultivate important dialogues about sexuality, identity, and discrimination. This year’s presentations will examine an impressive array of issues, ranging from school dress code standards to women’s education in Pakistan.

The conference’s 2016 Keynote Speaker is Margot Mifflin, an author and journalist whose research takes a historical look women’s tattoos, most famously in her 1997 book Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.

Mifflin’s scholarship reveals the many meanings that tattoos have held for women throughout history. Presently, the practice is often liberating “because it allows them to customize and personalize their look in an age of quickly commodified trends,” she explained in an email. But it can also serve as a source of judgment as well. Take, for example, the term “tramp stamp” – which Mifflin claims is used as “a judgment on women based on placement that has no parallel for men, who are never judged by the placement of their tattoos.”

Mifflin’s historical perspective offers many insightful surprises. She reveals how tattooing helped so-called “flapper girls” break free from Victorian confines in the 1920s. It became associated with counterculture during the 1970s, and by the 80s and 90s it helped women define “their own individual body ideal, and satisfy a heightened need to assert self-control over the body.”

On Thursday March 24, in Penn State Behrend’s Reed Hall, Mifflin will examine this increasingly popular marker of self expression to reveal “how it reflects gendered interests, anxieties or status.”

There are plenty of other events throughout the day leading up to her lecture – as well as on the following Friday – structured loosely around the theme of “Outlaws.” Better still, the conference concludes Friday evening with Ladyfest 2016 – a gathering of female-focused local bands. Once your head is full of interesting ideas, you can retreat to the dance floor with plenty of confident, talented women. – Dan Schank

Mifflin speaks at 7:30 p.m. in Reed 117, March 24 // Other events throughout Thursday, March 24 and Friday, March 25 // Penn State Erie, The Behrend College // 4701 Behrend College Dr.

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