She Grrrowls does Edinburgh PBH Fringe Free Festival 2017

After my first fringe run, it’s hard to know what I’m feeling, but, I’m so glad that I’ve done it. I viewed it as a learning experience, and wanted to sell some of the 100 books that were delivered to my hostel. I could just about fit the 50 books that were left in my suitcase, so I feel like I did what I set out to achieve. In celebration, I also got my first two tattoos: a heart on my wrist, because that’s where I wear it, and leopard print on my shoulder, to symbolise She Grrrowls.


In terms of learning, I think I could have flyered better in terms of exit-flyering more rigorously. I did well with the Wee Blue Book, but the people taking them weren’t necessarily my audience, and I feel like people who would have liked it weren’t always reached. I tried to pace myself, but as a lone wolf, I saw more shows than people, and could have put myself out there more in terms of meeting other poets etc. Tim Wells bumped into me flyering and stressed the importance of networking, but it isn’t my best skill. For this, I was grateful for people like John Osborne who invited me to hang out at the Book Festival, which I didn’t know much about. Sadly, coming down with a cold meant I had to propose getting well again, but towards the end of the month I was also able to hang out with Tyrone Lewis and Jake Wild Hall from Boomerang Club, and met a few people through them. It was actually BC, along with Joel Auterson who inspired me to take She Grrrowls to the fringe having seen they did it the previous year.

The Fringe is so expensive to attend, even with a free venue, and so I wasn’t expecting to make a profit, or break even, but just hoped to have some money to help me get by. It had put me out of pocket for many months when working in Spain, and it was thanks to a week of teaching work in Wimbledon that I even had money to buy food. I have no savings. The only thing to alleviate the stress what when I secured a couple more weeks of work for September, and started to do interview for tutoring jobs from my hostel kitchen. I was paying over £800 for a mixed 6-bed dorm,  and although this resulted in many sleepless nights due to snoring guests, the location was perfect, and it was pretty clean with a well-equipped kitchen. Doing a solo show I think I’d need something better, but I managed to survive it.

Initially, I was nervous about flyering, and not too excited to have to host the show. I found I surprised myself in both these areas. Flyering was okay when I could be myself, and there were hundreds of others doing the same. Hosting each night felt like I was training a set of muscles. However, there were a few times sexism reared its head. Once a man spoke to me about my event then asked to shake my hand. Except he brought it to his frog-like lips and kissed it. I felt violated. Then there was a time when a guy walked past, whipped a flyer out my hand only to throw it to the gutter – normally, not much to think of, except it seemed a deliberate reaction to the word “feminism” emboldened on the flyer. Just after this a group of guys I recognised (possibly fellow poets) approached me. At first they seemed friendly, but what they said to me was strange, hostile and intimidating. I doubted they would behave the way they did to a man, so regarded it as an act of sexism. And it wasn’t just me: Fay Roberts wrote an account for this problem here.

I did a few feature sets at nights such as Raise the Bar: Poetry Versus and That’s What She Said. Another thing I would have done would be more features and open mics, but this required more planning than I had realised, and I wasn’t quite sure where to look.  I did suffer from “fringe flu” at one point, which was when the wonderful Jane Bradley, host of TWSS, gave me a lovely bag of goodies like grapes and tea and lozenges. When I wasn’t flyering, seeing shows, or doing shows, I was writing reviews for The Norwich Radical (one, two, and three), and applying for tutoring jobs for when I returned to London. This means I’m going to soon become self-employed when I start taking on tutoring clients.

I saw so many incredible shows that it would be impossible to list them all, but I will try now, and did try to tweet about them all during the fringe (categories may cross over).

Comedy

KMT by Athena Kugblenu

Elsa by Isobel Rogers

What Women Want by Amy Annette

Sticky Digits by Pamela DeMenthe

Galpals

The Lol Word

Adele is Younger Than Us

Hurricane Katie by Katie Pritchard

How to be Good at Everything by Next Best Thing

The Conscious Uncoupling by Rosie Wilby

All KIDing Aside by Christel Bartelse

Molesting the Corpse of Traditional Masculinity Since 1987 by Henry Ginsberg

London Hughes: Superstar

Shit! I’m in Love with You Again by Rachelle Elie

 

Poetry

Above the Mealy-Mouthed Sea by Jemima Foxtrot

Circled in the Radio Times by John Osborne

Frankie Vah by Luke Wright

Anxiety and Animal GIFs by Hannah Chutzpah

My Cloth-Eared Heart by Melanie Branton

Neil Hillborn

That’s What She Said

Porky the Poet

Fifty Grades of Shame by Sophia Blackwell

An Evening with an Immigrant by Inua Ellams

No Rest for the Lizard by Gecko

A Matter of Race

Struggle With Purpose by Patrick Shand

Loud Poets

 

Theatre

This Really is Too Much

Happy Hour by Jack Rooke

Socially (Un)acceptable

Brutal Cessation

Show Me The Money by Paula Varjack

Jane Doe

Quarter-Life Crisis by Yolanda Mercy

Good Girl by Naomi Sheldon

The Vagina Dialogues

Side Orders

Syd & Sylvia by Claudia Jefferies

At the end of the run I had a couple of nights still, catching the rest of the shows I could, and trying to do some non-fringe stuff. Having had a picnic for dinner on Calton Hill the night before, I treated myself to a lovely meal at MUMS after climbing Arthur’s Seat on my final day, and had my first try of haggis with a Full Scottish Breakfast the next morning (I spread it on toast and finished it, but I’m more of a hash brown girl). After cooking for myself everyday, aside from exactly two portions of chips and gravy, for the whole month, it was a worthy reward. I’d also been veggie the whole time, so meat was quite a treat.

Now it’s onto the next chapter – the book launch at The Five Bells in New Cross on Wednesday 20th September!

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Hypocrite

I was at primary school when I first learnt what the word ‘hypocrite’ meant. I remember because I recall shouting it at other players during after-school netball games. I say shouting, but I’m quite softly spoken and so maybe I wasn’t all that loud. But I remember one friend laughing at me as I said it. Those who get close to me will learn this strange mix of vehement-quiet-girl still exists within me (why I’m so excited for the Shy Radicals book).

It was when I was a teenager, that I began to see my parents – and adults in general – as human beings. With flaws. One of those flaws being that they were massive hypocrites. As a child who had school reports detailing my strong sense of right and wrong, it was only natural that I developed this idea that being a hypocrite was not something I wanted to be, and with that I found it hard not to be overly righteous in defending my views. I never believed that I would become a hypocrite.

But maybe I was wrong. If I am to analyse the details of everything I do, I regularly go against what I believe in. I can do a lot better. And although I’m taking steps towards doing better, there will always be things I do that don’t live up to my ideal version of myself, especially when it comes to making money. For example, my current day job is teaching English as a foreign language. It can be a very rewarding job, yet, a big part of me is also uncomfortable about the fact that there is so much demand to learn English. It reminds me of how privileged I am to have been born where I was. Such a small country, such a widespread language, such a horrible history of colonialism.

And here I am, post-Brexit, living in Spain, not able to speak the language – because if you know English, why bother with any other language? Even the one of your heritage. My plan, to return to the UK, hopefully better acquainted with Spanish, and focus on my career as a writer. I feel I haven’t given myself the chance to properly try to live my dream. For a dream, I know it will seem less of that in reality, that it will be a struggle. But then so is working full-time and trying to work in the arts as a second job. It’s time that I make it a priority.

And in doing that, it’s likely my morals may be called into question. I might still be a hypocrite, and I might face dilemmas. Except maybe the money will be too much of a temptation, because I already auditioned for an advert for Transport for London because it paid more than my annual wage at the time (I’m now earning about half that annual wage, but my mental health is a lot better and I’m living in my own apartment instead of with my parents). And this dilemma is if I am lucky. Whenever I have seen other poets at Buckingham Palace, or on adverts, I have been excited for them, knowing that (despite the moral implications) I would be honoured to be asked and can’t imagine doing anything other than accept it. Even if I did feel uneasy about it.

This is for the same reason that I accepted my first job offer after I finished my MA and stayed there for 4 years. Because I have been taught that things are so bad that I should be grateful for whatever I can get. But right now, I have taken a risk and applied for Edinburgh Fringe Festival and booked to stay at a hostel for a month. It’s nearly double my current rent. I’m trying to save, but I am worried about being able to afford it. I thought about applying for some extra work that would ease these worries – £1000 for a month’s work online – but in the end, I wasn’t sure I would be able to commit to it on top of my full-time job teaching.

So, to imagine the fee that comes with doing adverts, such as the Nationwide ones, knowing that it could enable me to live my dream. It would be too good to refuse. And as another poet pointed out, it is the system that is the problem, and most of the time we are just trying to live. I’ve worked for minimum wage for WHSmith, JD Wetherspoons and Sainsbury’s. It doesn’t mean I agree with what they stand for, so if I was asked to pen a poem for those same companies, would it be any different? Perhaps it would, being that you are publicly associating your own brand as a poet with their brand, therefore it is a kind of endorsement that isn’t as true being a sales/bar assistant, which carries with it an element of anonymity, of being part of a uniformed mass.

In the midst of debate around the Nationwide adverts, although admitting he respects the poets in the ads, poet Luke Wright sparked debate with his poem Renegade Poets, which I think is what was intended. It is not so much the poets in the ads being targeted, but rather opening up a discussion about what it means when we accept these opportunities, especially for those of us who write political pieces and are vocal about things like Feminism and Capitalism. ‘McGough is doing Waitrose, and Clarkey’s doing chips…’ Wright says, while acknowledging it’s not about one specific case, and that it’s not new.

He laments about the art that is lost, the compromise you have to have, when selling your work in this way. One line that struck me was: ‘if nobody wants to see your show, it’s probably not good enough’, because part of me thinks there’s more to it than that. For example, with She Grrrowls, the audience can vary widely in numbers, and sadly I think being a feminist night, featuring women, this makes it more niche. Then again, there’s also music and comedy, which are arguably less niche than poetry. I have also had a promotor basically tell me that I don’t bring enough audience to the show. Whilst that may be true, I would never say that to one of my acts. It’s rude and patronising.

Nevertheless, the sentiment harks back to that line in Wright’s poem. If you are familiar with Wright’s work, you’ll see that at least in this sense, he practises what he preaches. How do you make something good enough? You work hard at it. At the night Homework, as well as in his solo shows, you can see the effort that goes into creating quality pieces, and the poem Renegade Poets is a great poem too, with an ending that really drives the point home.

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The point being to think more about making these decisions, instead of doing what I imagine I might do – just see the money and and say yes. So, yes it’s important to think about this topic, but at the moment, I don’t think I’m able to make a decision. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong in all contexts, but something that comes down to an individual company and what they stand for, and the person making that choice.

When I did my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship five years ago, part of me thought that if I had the right tools I could be successful in the arts. I grew up with two teachers as parents and they worked hard in their field and have been able to provide me with a good life. I have become slightly disillusioned since graduating and working, that although we were taught that the “struggling artist” cliche is a myth that doesn’t have to be fulfilled, I still fear know that by taking a risk later this year, I will living on the “cabbage budget” and may never see the “champagne budget”.

Disillusioned, but only slightly. I still hold on to my dream, and feel I have to give myself that chance. On another  related note, Roxane Gay recently pulled publication of her next book How to Be Heard after ‘alt-right’ Milo Yiannopoulos received a $250,000 advance from Simon & Schuster. It is an act of protest. She has been able to stand by her morals and principles, but she has also been quoted by The Guardian as saying ‘I can afford to take this stand. Not everyone can. Remember that.’ Whether these moral choices are something we can do from the start of our career, or whether it is something success enables us to do so is still up for debate. I may be a hypocrite now, but I will try to push myself and do better.

Feminist Poetry

One funny (aka annoying) thing about identifying as a Feminist and being relatively vocal about it as a poet (like putting on an event with women-only features) is that you get put in a particular box.

The thing is, the whole point of Feminism is to not be put in a box; it’s about dismantling binaries of gender, and dichotomies such as the infamous virgin/whore one. I guess that’s why lots of people have been sharing comment from Maisie Williams about the label “Feminist” – reducing it to the simple catchy phrase that anyone who isn’t Feminist should be labelled “sexist”. I don’t want to go too far into this part, because the statement that is being shared is reductive and denies the nuances of sexism and misogyny, but it also denies the complexity of what Williams was trying to express, which was actually about trolling and shame, rather than Feminism (in fact the idea that women can be just as nasty as men is Feminist). Her words have been taken way too far out of context,now having read the original interview. One critic I have is that by labelling people “sexist”, you’re actually perpetuating the culture of shame (I haven’t read this yet, but I think it will be really eye-opening when I do).

Red tick in box

I’m categorically not interested in arguing about whether we need the label “Feminism” needs to go, or whether it needs a rebrand. It is a type of activism related to gender, acknowledging the systematic oppression of women throughout history. And personally, Feminism needs to strive to be intersectional – how can you care about women if it’s only one type of woman? This means that you listen to people from other oppressed groups and take on board what they say, taking into account some of your own privilege. I strongly believe that patriarchy damages men and boys, and this is something that is very much a part of my Feminism, yet within this an understanding that men and boys have also tended to benefit from the system. If people want to know what Feminism is today, my recommendations are:

bell hooks – everything
Laura Bates – Everyday Sexism
Michael Kimmel – his books, but also him speaking

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But anyway, I’ve got carried away. What I really wanted to say (moan about) is about the conflict I have between my Feminism being an important part of my identity and yet people sometimes have the trouble to see that this means that I am a person, a human being, and not an object or a number to get a certain quota. It’s important to me to write poetry on Feminism and it’s something I’ve been doing for around 9 years, since I started to take my poetry to the microphone. When I was younger I wrote about being a Feminist who waxes (and a guy in the audience asked me if I was really a Feminist – shock, horror!) and about the beauty industry. Recently, I still write about these kinds of topics, but also about female genital cutting, rape as a weapon of war, and dismantling damaging notions of masculinity. However, when I started writing poetry, it was sickeningly and overwhelmingly about boys. I look back now and I laugh (cringe) because I can’t even remember who the hell I’ve written about so emotively. I mean, I once wrote a poem about a guy I fancied at a club who had a broken arm. I won “Best Loss Poem” at Glam Slam in 2011 with a tale of heart-break, after a string of unrequited love/lust/infatuation. Things aren’t always easy just because you’re in a relationship, so I still have a few sombre poems, but also a whole host of lovey-dovey poems, which are really hard to write well!feminism-is-the-radical-notion-that-women-are-people-quote-1

The point is that about 5% of my material is overtly Feminist, but Feminist lines and themes will slip in because it is such a big part of my being. And let’s not get me started on the comment (insult) that one guy made about my work being “very feminine”. It was the only comment he said, and he spoke with a sneer, out of his judgemental, condescending nose. However, there is also very little I don’t write about as I play with different forms and get inspired by different things. I guess it’s difficult because when you become a brand to market – as sadly you do when you put yourself out there in the creative industries – people want something like “Feminist poet” to cling to. Perhaps what concerns me is how others perceive me, and I worry that there may be any negativity surrounding this. But is this real or imagined? A certain poet has seemed to change their mind about sexism being morally wrong, but it seems to be going well for them. Like, my hashtag below was a joke, yet the “joke” responses that followed weren’t at all funny in my opinion… but then, Feminists have no sense of humour, so… I didn’t know how to respond to someone who is meant to be a peer, and who I expect to be respectful, so a simple sarcastic “lolz” was all I could muster.

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Anyway, I guess I need to remember what Benjamin Zephaniah once told me – that if you are a black woman who is a lesbian and in a wheelchair, you have to write some poems about other things than those aspects of your identity. So, there’s only so many poems I can share about Feminism before people will think that’s all I do! So I guess I need to be aware of what I put out there, and share every part of my writing more widely, not just the more political pieces. Maybe it will make up for all my Feminist ranting. But one thing’s for sure – I will never give up on Feminism or on myself! I’ve been through a tough time recently, but Destiny’s Child and Christina Aguilera and Nirvana have helped me through it! And now I have been writing for so long, but I feel good getting it out! 💪

Sex Work

I’ve been avoiding writing about this topic, because I know it is so sensitive and I am, quite frankly, afraid of putting a foot wrong just to speak my mind.

It is something I am undecided on, and that I find it so difficult to be decided on. I figure it’s partly a good thing, as it maybe means I’m more open to listening than on topics where I have vehement opinions.

Feminism in London (2015) took a stance on the issue by giving a platform to women who support the Nordic model, including ex-sex workers, and women who have been trafficked. When I saw this, although I didn’t agree with 100% of the methods, I was completely convinced.

At Women of the World this year, they showed both sides through performance, but didn’t try to have a panel on it (due to past occurrences I think). In turn, this meant it didn’t take a position on the issue. And I got the impression that Founder and Artistic Director, Jude Kelly, didn’t really know where she stood on this matter either.

I recently watched this video below and I couldn’t recommend it more.

It runs through the following options when thinking about sex work and legality:

-Full criminalisation: seller, buyer, third parties.

-Partial crimination: selling and buying legal, but other activities (e.g. selling on streets, in brothels) banned.

-Nordic model: criminalising buyer, not the seller.

-Legalisation: all legal!

And what do sex workers want? Decriminalisation. 

One of the issues FiL picked on with this, was how it differs to legalisation, and they argued that it doesn’t (but have a read of this). Whilst I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for people trafficked into sex work – including one speaking at this event – Toni Mac makes a good point that people are trafficked into other industries and nobody calls for a ban on the entire industry itself. But then again, I read that 95% of victims of trafficking are forced into sex work. Needless to say that most of these people are women. So, it shows that this is to do with women’s position in society; the fact that it’s a gendered issue is obviously going to provoke ideas that all sex work is a form of violence against women. But some women do choose it, so where do they fit in? Often people point out the issue with capitalism and that sex work is simply another form of exploitation. It begs the question of whether it matters whether its sex work or not.

What I find difficult may be a process of unlearning. As much as I don’t want to add to the stigma against sex workers, I am uncomfortable with what I have heard  about legalisation in Germany, where sex has been marketed within a deal where you also get a beer and a hot dog, dehumanising the women involved. That this advertising will be seen with young children, that on family tours these children will see themselves reflected differently. I really hope that decriminalisation won’t mean the same thing happening. As someone who works with young people, I can’t see myself promoting sex work as a viable career choice to those that I work with, especially when wanting to encourage young women not to limit themselves or see themselves as objects. Women are already objects in advertising for tech job recruitment and more, so how, in an unequal society, with women making up a majority of sex workers, can we make progress so that fewer women are exploited for their bodies?

For me, sex work is like no other work, which is what makes it so difficult to get my head around. However, if this is to do my relationship with sex as an act that is uniquely intimate, then perhaps what is needed is better understanding, more voices from sex workers, about the work they do and how they negotiate it with other aspects of their lives. At FiL I heard statistics about the mental processes of sex work, the disassociation, that it takes 3-7 years for sex workers to see themselves as being exploited, that many will tell themselves they enjoy their job etc. It is also where I heard the term “prostituted women” and thought I understood the phrase, only then to read something that argued that by saying that of all sex workers, you take away their agency.

Part of what I’m uneasy about is the idea that if we decriminalise sex work, that we are accepting that we can’t do anything about its existence. FiL argued “we don’t want a reform, we want a revolution.” But when that revolution appears to be impossible, it seems to make sense to do whatever it takes to protect those most in danger of suffering at the hands of these four failed models. After all, Toni Mac states that “Prohibition barely makes a difference to the amount of people actually doing those things, but it makes a huge difference as to whether they’re safe when they do them.”

She goes on to say that “you can’t simply legislate a better world into existence.” You simply can’t disagree with this statement because so much of this is cultural, and changing attitudes is massively challenging. I can see everyday with my work with children how ingrained sexism and misogyny (as well as so much more) is on this young people. Again, Toni Mac makes a very powerful point about the question “Would you want your daughter doing it?” which has been my thoughts, not necessarily in terms of my daughter, who doesn’t yet exist, but more about the young women with whom I work. But Toni Mac turns it around and gets you to imagine that she’s already doing it, asking “How safe is she at work tonight? Why isn’t she safer?”

New Zealand is the only place that has decriminalisation in place, written in collaboration with sex workers, and I guess all we can do is see what happens and hope we finally have a solution. So far, things seem to be working well. I admit, I have been guilty of seeing sex workers as either victim or privileged, and this post itself definitely isn’t perfect. But I’m trying to understand, and where I can, to learn about sex work from all voices who have the experience to speak; I will listen and try to be a better ally.

“If you care about gender equality, or poverty or migration or public health, then sex workers’ rights matter to you.” 

Why I Don’t Believe in Diets

So, the video above is from a poem that was published by Nasty Little Press in the Podium Poets #1 anthology, in partnership with Spread the Word. We’re all familiar with the “New Year, New You” cliché and I wrote this poem after being sick of the post-holiday obsession over weight, perpetuated by adverts that play on our insecurities.

This year we saw the epitome of this came with Protein World’s advertising campaign, below. Now, it’s not so much as this is anything new, but it was more that it’s the last straw. These kinds of messages are so insidious and as much as I refuse to let them get to me, they do. Please, come up with a new way to sell your shitty weight-loss products. I mean, the product in itself is something I loathe.

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I’m even embarrassed to admit that I was conned into getting some “free” weight-loss tablets that ended up giving me heartburn and a hole in my bank account instead. I really paid for my stupidity as I could only get half the cash back after telling them what awful human beings they are. But really I think this shows how difficult, but imperative, it is to rebel against these kinds of campaigns.

So, when I was on my second membership to Move Your Frame and saw them post the same rhetoric, but this time linked to exercise, I vowed not to go there again. I mean, at least a weight-loss product is all about unrealistic expectations and isn’t trying to be something it’s not. But for a company whose message is meant to be about keeping fit, being healthy and being active in a fun way to jump on board the body-shaming bandwagon, it’s just a whole other shade of wrong.

Kate Tempest & Hollie McNish: Reclaim Touch from RANDOM ACTS on Vimeo.

One of my favourite poetry videos is the collaboration between Kate Tempest and Hollie McNish ‘Reclaim Touch’. I think more of this honesty is needed in our rebellion against the diet and weight-loss industry.

This was meant to be a short post, but I also wanted to mention Juliette Burton who spoke about Protein World during a panel at Feminism in London. I had already come across her on the Twitter-sphere, but hearing her in person was a privilege. She spoke about her experience with eating disorders, where at her lowest weight she was just 4 stone and a UK size 4, or the infamous US size 0. She was a month away from dying when she was the size that it is said that 11-17 year old girls are encouraged to desire, stating how advertising is the wallpaper of our lives. She also became an overeater and increased her weight to 19 stone, at a size 20, which had an impact on her mental health and resulted in feelings of suicide. She was able to find a healthy medium, but also suffered from bulimia. Here you can see why this matters.

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I write this as I’ve been too busy to go to the gym over the last few months. But I decided not to make myself feel guilty about it, and accept that I would get back into a routine when the time was right. Being so busy, I spend a lot of time walking anyway, and on New Year’s Day, after a lot of guiltless indulgence, I went on a 3/4 hour walk from Kingston Hospital to Kew Gardens and around the illuminated trail. Tomorrow I plan to do some dancing in my house, I’m going to a spa with my mum on Saturday, and then on Sunday I plan to return to the gym. But I will continue not to diet – the idea in itself an illogical concept where it’s a known fact that any weight loss is put back on. Instead, I will eat healthily, treat myself to nice things like chocolate, and exercise regularly to keep physically and mentally fit!

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Feminism in London: Engaging Men in Feminism

Last year at the FiL conference I went to a similar workshop about men and Feminism. This year, The Great Initiative came to deliver the workshop, which went through a some of the activities they would do with school children as a way of engaging them within discussions on gender and equality. Although the focus is on men and boys here, it is a far cry from the misogynist MRAs one can get used to trolling online. The men who are serious about addressing gender do so in a pro-Feminist way. Through ‘Great Men’, they aim to disrupt gender stereotypes and engage participants in the movement towards gender equality. The diagram below shows how they go about this.

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In the workshop, we started with word associations on big pieces of paper connected to men and women. The main bulk was in groups, where we discussed pros and cons men being engaged with Feminism. Our initial reaction to the task was that there simply aren’t any cons to men being engaged with Feminism. We then thought more about it in terms of either the act of engaging men itself and what are essentially maybe teething issues, so things like feeling men are to blame rather than it being about a system of power, but arguably paradoxically having to think about being in a position privilege and how that can be used for making the movement stronger. Yet, in terms of men who are engaged in Feminism, there may be a resistance to, in some ways, giving up power, and in turn a danger to dominate rather than listen and try to understand how life is coloured with experiences of being a woman. I managed to take a photograph of our notes on the topic. When the discussion was opened up, we managed to summarise, and there were moments where it descented into debate, but at the end we were left with this list to keep in mind, and some tools and approaches to engaging men and boys in Feminism.

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bell hooks: Outlaw Culture

When reading Feminist texts, it is usually unlikely that you will agree with 100% of what they write. It’s hard to be right about everything, and Feminists are human and it’s natural to disagree. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a pretty impossible feat to solve the world’s problems. But, you know, we try. And when it comes to bell hooks, she gets pretty close to that 100% for me. This notion of a perfect kind of Feminism is also something bell hooks addresses.

In conversation with Caitlin Moran, Bridget Christie and Shazia Mirza at Southbank Centre, they asserted that there’s no such thing as a perfect Feminist, and that they shouldn’t have to face a backlash for saying things others had issues with. Whilst I agree that the vile abuse that can come out of this through such “Twitterstorms” is bad (goodbye sisterhood), I think it’s important to be critical and create a dialogue rather than stick your fingers in your ears and say ‘la la la, I’m not listening’. bell hooks states her books ‘rigorously critique and interrogate aspects of feminist thoughts, they also insist on the primacy of a fierce feminist commitment to ending sexism and sexist oppression.’ She goes on to say that ‘a progressive, revolutionary feminist movement must welcome and create a context for constructive conflict, confrontation, and dissent. Through that dialectical exchange of ideas, thought, and visions, we affirm the transformative power of power politics.’ Maybe a utopian vision, but something we do have the power to achieve.

I have a copy of ‘Feminism is for Everybody’ still on my shelf, and bought my boyfriend a copy of ‘The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love’ after a recommendation from a male colleague, but I started with ‘Outlaw Culture’. It’s a collection of essays and interviews which focuses on pop culture, weaving in perfectly placed profanities within an academic discourse that gives legitimacy to engage critically with the kinds of things that surround a majority of people’s everyday lives.

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I have folded down SO MANY CORNERS. I cannot recommend this book enough, even if it isn’t the one that most people would typically go for. Although bell hooks has been questioned on her academic style, I still think it’s somewhat accessible. Coming from an academic background myself, it may be hard to assess that concern properly, but I was actually gripped when reading it. And to get that from a non-fiction feminist text is pretty impressive.

One of the big things I liked about the book, is the amount of times the ‘white supremacist capitalist, patriarchy’ is referenced, as well as comments on heteronormativity and imperialism. I think it’s so important to see the ways these systems of power intersect and to find strength in that, as well to see what part you have to play in the struggle against these multiple oppressions. Although there are some references to films I’d not seen, it made me want to watch and re-read, and these were just as interesting as those I was familiar with, or the more broad essays, such as the fantastic ‘Gangsta Culture – Sexism and Misogyny: Who will take the rap?’ This was the one that made me rush to my bag in a debate with my Dad to slam the book down at the table, opened at one of the turned-down corners.

Published in 2006, Outlaw Culture is available from Routledge Classics and you can buy it here.