Throughout the history of paranormal research, women have often been the leading figures despite being under-represented at every step of the way. Eleanor Sidgwick was a leading figure in the Society for Psychical Research – easily the most established organisation dedicated to paranormal research in the country, if not the globe. Sidgwick was the president of the Society from 1908 to 1909. She had a huge hand in the work that went into the Census of Hallucinations, described by the SPR as ‘a survey on a very considerable scale which set out to establish the probability of reports of crisis apparitions being due to chance coincidence; the report on this work, prepared largely by Eleanor Sidgwick, ruled out this possibility.’
Whether you agree with the researchor not isn’t the point here. The point is that the contribution of women is not ignorable. Other female SPR presidents have included Edith Balfour Lyttelton and Deborah Delonoy who, by the way, was also the president of the Parapsychological Association.
Today Susan Blackmore is easily one of the most recognisable people to have been involved in parapsychology, having gained her degree in the subject from Surrey in 1980, and you’ll be hard pressed to talk about parapsychology without Doctor Caroline Watt coming up in conversation. Watt currently heads up the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh University.
Women, you see, are pretty fucking visible throughout paranormal research and I haven’t even properly scratched the surface. Ann Winsper, Jenny Randles, Mary Rose Barrington… there are many women who haven’t been mentioned but if you look for them you will find ’em. We need more women to get involved in the field though, and we need to make those are involved in the field more visible because they often go without the credit they deserve – Becky Smith is just one example. Smith conducted a sort-of 21st Century version of the Census of Hauntings and has a Ph.D on ghosts and yet gets hardly any attention. I hope this will change because at paranormal research-related conferences male speakers routinely dominate and they don’t always deserve to (I’m looking at you, Malcolm Robinson.)
I’m not an academic and probably never will be. I am a ghost geek though and although I don’t believe in ghosts I actively investigate and research alleged paranormal activity using rational inquiry and scientific scepticism. I literally bust ghosts in my spare time, looking for rational causes for weird things people experience and detecting hoaxes. I’m not the best and I’ve still got loads to learn but I do my bit.
I am a ghost buster. A female ghostbuster.
My love for ghosts and all things weird comes from my personal experiences as well as being a lifelong fan of The X-Files, Scooby Doo, Jonathan Creek and Ghostbusters. Dana Scully and Velma Dinkley are heroes of rational inquiry – asking questions where others may not have thought to, showing that women (even fictional) are as vital in their field as their male colleagues. Alongside Jonathan Creek, Maddie Magellan and later Carla Borrego or Joey Ross showed that although it was Creek who was a bit of a genius when it came to solving mysteries women were just as able to get stuck in and contribute just as much to the investigations. Joey Ross was an respected investigator in her own right.
Ghostbusters was always the odd one out because there were no girls other than the receptionist and the victim.
At school we would play Ghostbusters in the playground and I would be the receptionist, Janine. I would stand in the playground and shout “Ghostbusters! We got one!” and the boys would come to the rescue.
That’s why I think it is so bizarre that a number of people are angry at the recent news that a Ghostbusters film with an all-female cast has been announced. I’ve seen a small number of people say “I grew up with male ghostbusters and I find it difficult to accept an all female cast” Yeah? I grew up with an all-male Ghostbusters too and I don’t find it difficult to accept an all-female cast so I wonder what the difference must be? I loved the boys just as much as you did, but an all-female cast does not detract from what has come before and it really isn’t as bizarre a concept as some might think because, as I’ve shown, women have contributed just as much to the academic study of paranormal phenomena as men.
I speak at paranormal conferences now and then – and I turn down more than I speak at due to scheduling issues but I am routinely the only woman on the speakers list, or one of two or three who are outnumbered by men. Do men fear that they’re going to lose something if the fictional representation of their field suddenly skews the gender ratio to be in favour of the under-represented gender for once?
Does a character that has typically been male lose so much when recast as a woman? No, they don’t, so get over it. Judge the film on its merits and don’t judge it based on the gender of the characters otherwise you’re just proving what an awful person you really are.
The field of paranormal research as it stands today has been shaped by men and women and women – fictional and real – will continue to have an input because busting makes us feel good.
Thank you to C J Romer for help.