News: She Grrrowls and Audio Book Radio

She Grrrowls is settled into its new home at Apples & Pears – it’s crazy to think that half a year has gone, and 16th July will be the last event before the summer break (all being well, returning in September). Check out what you missed last week:

In other news, I’m currently working on an anthology of ten poets from the She Grrrowls alumni after receiving funding from Ideas Tap to commission some new poems. I just need a publisher now! I’m hoping to get it out for December to have a launch event.

I’ve also been listening to this radio documentary, with poetry by Kate Tempest after having listened to lots of clips shared by Falling Tree. Again, you can listen to it here:

Speaking of radio, I’ll be having some poems featured on Audio Book Radio. Tune in on Friday 26th June at 2pm, 10pm and Saturday 27th at 6am.

How Not to Talk About Intersectionality

Changing Families and Feminist Blind Spots: Have female-friendly policies been captured by middle class feminists?

When giving up an evening to go to a talk on with the title above, you would probably be fair in making the assumption that this would be a discussion amongst identifying Feminists, with a focus on intersectionality, touching on issues of class and race. Or at least that is the assumption I made, when invited by a colleague. It is only now that I read it another way; ‘feminists’ here are The Other, separated from everyone else.

It began with a presentation by Professor Baroness Alison Wolf, yet throughout the evening, it seemed that she was most concerned with promoting her book ‘The XX Factor: How Working Women are Creating a New Society’. If Wolf was meant to be the spokesperson for Feminism, her voice was not strong enough, and she often put her foot in her mouth. For example, when making the assumption that the room is full of middle class people, what are you then saying about working class people? By making a sweeping generalisation on the audience appearance, Wolf was unable to address the complexities of class as it is now. She talked about 15-20% percentage of women being highly educated, and the rest being ignored by Feminism, which may be true of certain strands of mainstream Feminism, but within that she ignored the gap between herself and a lot of women who would be deemed middle class. The middle class is a wider demographic that Wolf presented.

When Wolf began her presentation, she was aware that it may be seen a controversial. At first I wondered if what she was saying was deliberately done to make us feel uncomfortable. That would have been a great tactic. However, as she went on, what she said seemed more illogical and simply not that well informed. She may know her economics, but she doesn’t know her Feminism. I’ve followed the work of The Crunk Feminist Collective for some time, but there are plenty of examples of intersectional Feminism and no mention of this aspect of Feminism today at the event. There are also writers such as Bridget Minamore and Chimene Suleyman writing for Poejazzi who touch on these topics. Here you can read articles such as ‘The “Fierce” Black Woman Inside You Desont’ Exist”  (Minamore) and ‘Fighting against the fetishisation of women, doesn’t work if you fetishise women’  (Suleyman), which are Feminist, and offer a valuable critique of the type of Feminism Wolf was attempting to address.

Wolf’s point about working class women was lost by ignoring the women she claimed to be speaking for. But why was she speaking for them at all? Would it not have been better to actually bring women who identified as working class and allowed them the space to get their voice heard? Instead, Wolf presented a case of topics that mainstream Feminists were concerned about and put them up against what was happening elsewhere in the world. However, there was only one example that actually included a gendered news story, and if we are talking on Feminism, this should have been the focus. What was also concerning was the way Wolf talked about rape, which was extremely dismissive. She even went on to say that people are interested in rape because society is obsessed with sex and violence. She seemed not to realise that rape is not about an obsession with sex, but more about power.

Furthermore, women are arguably more vulnerable to rape if they are from a lower economic background or if they are not white, with these factors also being an influence on what happens in the courtroom, should it be taken there. But there was no mention of this, no mention of rape as a weapon of war in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I’m not sure there was even mention of the 200 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped in April 2014. Four girls who escaped said they had been held in a camp in Cameroon and raped every day. And she claims that our concern about rape is so we can “feel victimised and superior at the same time.” . The media may have their own agenda, but to imply that we don’t care about these issues just doesn’t make sense.

Mainstream Feminism needs to take notice of how gender, class and race intersect, but this didn’t seem to be exactly what Wolf was saying. She didn’t engage with the role of the superrich 1%. She seemed to want to show that women’s progress has damaged women, and a lot of her argument was based around the idea that a childless woman is a “problem”. Whilst I agreed that more collectivist methods are needed in order to benefit working class women, she spoke of an “individualistic and career-orientated elite” and didn’t really consider who the elite actually are. She made the mistake of criticising others, whilst not looking at her own faults, and including herself in the problems of Feminism, and showing ways in which we all can listen to the voices of working class women.

In the audience, there were stifled noises of exasperation. But if we thought that was bad, we hadn’t seen anything yet! Belinda Brown was next to speak, and she certainly didn’t offer the critique we may have imagined. She spoke about gender trumping class, and didn’t seem to understand the point of intersectionality, that Wolf had touched on by stating that in terms of the pay gap, gender only becomes an issue for those who are from a lower economic background. Whilst this in itself is debatable, this widening gap is a concern; it is a Feminist issue. Brown spoke about women at the top damaging men’s jobs, but it was when she made a joke about women spending money shopping that I was sure that I wouldn’t agree with a word she said.

To be fair, she touched on one point of common ground. Women who have children are obviously biologically forced to take some time out of work to have children. We shared the view that part of the problem is that, where women are the main caregivers, this work is not valued as work. Because society doesn’t value a lot of the work women do, both at home and the type of positions women tend to take, this means that they also face the brunt of financial problems. Yet, because Brown was clearly anti-Feminism, she was also unable to see that men are also the fathers of their children. She repeatedly failed to acknowledge this, and therefore didn’t see a way of this changing. She didn’t see that a more equal distribution of childcare was needed. She didn’t see that this is an issue that runs deeper than class, that middle class families are also struggling to afford childcare, that this is a massive societal problem. Brown became flustered when confronted with the slightly bit of opposition (and believe me, a lot of people held back saying anything), and she brought her personal life as a carer for her partner. Whilst I couldn’t fail to feel sympathy for her situation, I also wanted to (metaphorically) shake her. It didn’t make sense that she could see how the value of her carework is seen as lower than her academic work, and yet couldn’t see that this view is due to the patriarchal structure of society. She couldn’t see that this also links to other power structures such as Capitalism and historic white supremacy.

The whole evening was such a mess that even the chair, Emma Barnett, had to step in to confront what was being said. Frankly, I would have rather listened to what Barnett had to say than either of the actual speakers.

Women and ‘Banter’: What are her choices?

Ellie Holland is a news reporter for series 7 of London360 – a show which uncovers the hidden voices of London’s communities. She came to She Grrrowls in the summer to feature some of the show and interview me. You can find me discussing my poem ‘Risk’ on her YouTube channel, and Rowena Knight, one of the loyal volunteers at She Grrrowls, performing her poem ‘Garlic’. At our meeting, I found out more about Holland’s specific interest in gender and burlesque, which you can find out about on this Huffington Post article.

“If a friend made a rape joke in your presence, what would you do? Carmina Masoliver, who runs spoken word and poetry event She Grrrowls, reveals her experience.”

Lastly, you can also hear me talk on October 6th show for London360, 8.38 minutes in.

Feminism in London Conference: Part 4

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At the end of the conference we gathered for the final speeches and the Emma Humphreys memorial prize giving. Much of it was very moving, as well as being informative on some of the work that is happening with regard to violence against women. I didn’t feel it packed a punch in the way that other moments of the day had for me, but this was probably just because the opening talk had been so important and eye-opening for me. Along with the talks on shadeism and men’s role in Feminism, I’m now looking to build upon areas where there are gaps in my knowledge and experience, as opposed to reinforcing what we already know. That said, it is always needed to rally up support with speeches like this where there is a resurgence of energy, to keep us going, to keep us fighting.

I also really enjoyed Sabrina Mahfouz’s poem, which incorporated different parts of the day that she had experienced. Possibly out of paranoia, I had been wondering why I was not seeing the successes of some other poets, and worried that maybe I have been to vocal about my views, that I was being labelled to extreme. In person, I have faced little opposition, but still some opposition, to She Grrrowls – I’ve been told that the logo is scary and off-putting, that I’m creating a problem in what is already an equal community, simply for featuring women in the arts at my event. So, it really helped me to see Sabrina Mahfouz up there, proud to be a Feminist, yet also managing to be an extremely successful poet, amongst other things. Since feeling this fear that I would be jeopardising my career by being so outwardly Feminist (a fear that was expressed in the conference to explain why women would not use the label), I cannot express fully my gratitude at seeing Mahfouz take to the stage and be involved in the Feminism in London conference.

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After the conference, we headed to the SU bar for the after party. I was joined by Rose Swainston and Maeve Scullion (pictured above) to represent Kid Glove. Kate Smurthwaite was also featuring; I mentioned something I found problematic in my earlier post, but other than that, she was the performer I most enjoyed that evening. I also enjoyed the other poetry act, Mabel, and the women who sang Spanish and English songs on her guitar. I felt proud after knowing ‘mujer’ meant ‘woman’ (sadly, due to Duo Lingo, not my Spanish heritage). Without wanting to dwell on negatives, I was really taken aback by a woman who, after a poem on personal experience of a rape-joke, called out ‘I’m not clapping to that, it was awful.’ And soon after, said to another woman ‘are we going?’ She was very near the stage and she didn’t try to hide what she was saying – quite the opposite. I felt close to tears, but as we were rotating poems between the three of us, I had to put it to the back of my mind and tell myself she must not have understood the poem. I stayed for a bit of the Stepney Sisters, but left early as I was tired and had a long journey to go back to the suburbs. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference and wonder where I will be on the journey of Feminism then.

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Feminism in London Conference 2014: Part 2

Parts 2 and 3 deal with the morning and afternoon workshops that I attended at the Feminism in London Conference, which were on Shadism and Men’s role in the Feminist movement. In the first workshop I wanted to learn from the experiences of WoC (Women of Colour). As I am White European, I didn’t feel I needed to relate any experiences, despite the encouragement from Femi that all people present should speak if they wanted. Sure, I may have had things to say about friends, and about how having a Spanish name and curly hair has coloured my experiences, but I just didn’t think what I had to say was of that much relevance in such a short space of time, other than reinforce the points that were already being made in connection to shadism. I mostly listened, and only commented at the end when I urged people to help with the education, suggesting the TES website as a place to upload texts that could be read for English that deal with issues of race and gender etc. As again and again education is highlighted as being so important in opening a dialogue on these issues, I feel I am currently in such a privileged position and I need to take action.

Just to start off, in case you aren’t aware of what shadeism/shadism means, then I’ll give a quick definition. It is the discrimination of individuals based on skin tone, which can be both intrinsic and extrinsic to the race or community. It is heavily connected with the false perception that the closer an individual’s skin is to white, the more superior they are to other members of their race. It is something steeped in historical oppression, and often connects to class and other issues. Its place within the conference is also due to the fact that it often relates more strongly to women, due to the pressures of beauty standards. A film exploring just one aspect of this issue is the documentary ‘Good Hair’, presented by Chris Rock, which I saw a few years ago and was mentioned during this workshop. You can watch the trailer below… although it’s advertised here as a comedy, it’s definitely mixed with a whole dose of tragedy as humour is used to explore something that really is no laughing matter. [Edit! My friend, Natalie Cooper, drew my attention to the fact that ‘Good Hair’ is actually a rip off of ‘My Nappy Roots‘.]

Some of the points that were raised included (text in brackets shows my own points):

-The need for colour-blind casting in schools and in the wider world of acting.
-Comments on hair and touching without permission.
-Stereotypes: people saying they do not “sound Black” or white friends saying they do not think of them as Black.
-Older relatives handing down bleaching cream to young children.
-Members of the family being treated differently due to skin tone.
-The importance of language. It was strongly felt that to label oneself Black and have pride in that was vital in making a political statement.
-In a similar vein, it is up to the individual whether to a mixed race person identifies as either Black or White. This connects to people picking out features that go into either category, and it was asserted that it should not matter, should not be asked.
-The importance of encouraging girls to keep their hair natural until old enough to make an informed decision.
-Self-hatred is an important issue, which is why it is important to still tell young WoC that they are beautiful.
-WoC need more visibility in the media, advertising, in high street shops etc. (To ignore beauty and consumerism is a privilege.)
-The fascination with White people wanting to be tanned. It is that they want to be darker, but do not want the problems that come with being a WoC. White people need to understand the politics of bleaching is very different to wanting to tan. (However, seeing a mixed race tone as the ideal is problematic in terms of it perpetuating shadeism.)
-There are assumptions that Black people don’t care about appearance, when statistically they spend more money on this.
-White people should be able to describe someone as Black, yet it was also noted that this should not be to the extent that these White people do not see anything else.
-Stickers on things such as bleaching or “lightening” products (it’s the same thing, people, which is why I was disgusted at a poster I saw at a sk:in clinic). Consciousness raising.

By the end, it felt like we had only tapped the surface of shadism. We tried to conclude things, to come up with solutions and action plans, but each time women would return to speak more about their experiences. I don’t feel it is my place to even do more than share this list of points, but I hope that this post will be informative for white people, and that WoC who were unable to attend may be able to voice their own experiences and open up discussion, between friends, family and online platforms etc. Lastly, I have since come across an article by Victoria Bond which stated something that resonated with me: race is a spectrum, not a dichotomy.

Feminism in London Conference 2014: Part 1

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This year at the Feminism in London Conference  I was holding a stall and performing at the after party. My wonderful Mum actually held the store most of the day so that I could enjoy some workshops. In hindsight I wish that I had told her to come along to some of the goings on. I was there promoting She Grrrowls and selling books and other merchandise, such as my Nasty Little Intro. I’m going to divide it up into different posts, or else it will be very long!

From the very first talk of the day, this year’s conference felt very important for me. Last year I wrote a blog post where I detailed my thoughts on the ‘Stop Porn Culture’ talk and I was unsure on my views on porn. I hate to say it has actually been my boyfriend whose views have swayed me into thinking that porn is always exploitation of women. This year it was forcefully said that the Feminist movement needed to agree on this issue and it made me wonder whether my desire to accept that there may be such a thing as Feminist porn is actually too much of a compromise. I still feel like I need to do more research in this area. Even speaking on a similar issue with my boyfriend this week, he didn’t see the connection between the exploitation of women in porn with those on the streets. I guess we both still have some figuring out to do!

What I was talking about was one of the biggest revelations of the weekend for me. There was a distinction made between the language of calling what I would normally call a sex worker, with calling someone a prostitute, and then again with the expression ‘a prostituted woman’. This phrasing highlighted the fact that prostitution is not something that a woman does, but rather, as the verb suggests, something that is done to her. So, even when a woman is not trafficked into the sex trade, it is always going to be a form of exploitation. Some may argue that this is not the case. This is why I would really like to see some statistics on the role of choice in sex work, though I’m aware that it isn’t always going to be quantifiable as it is such a complex matter. At the conference it was argued that to call it ‘sex work’ is to legitimise the work. I feel that to legitimise it and for a sex worker to say ‘I am a sex worker and not a prostituted or trafficked woman’ actually comes from a privileged position. This is where other kinds of intersectional systems of power come into play (something that was discussed last year). How much can ‘choice’ be a factor, I wonder, when a woman has suffered physical and sexual abuse, when a woman suffers from mental health issues, when a woman is addicted to drugs, or when a woman is living in poverty? Are there any women out there who are not white, middle class women who call themselves sex workers? Is selling your body ever something to be empowered by?

Now, to be empowered is something else that was being discussed in this talk. At this point I will say that throughout the presentation I felt like an outsider. It was suggested that the opposition between second and third wave Feminism wasn’t generational, but ideological. However, I cannot help when I was born, that my first experience of any form of Feminism (that wasn’t in history books) was through the Spice Girls and riot grrrl music. I started to feel like I was in an environment where I would be judged for my liking the colour pink, that I shave my legs and get Brazilian waxes, and that I have performed pole dancing routines (not because it was empowering, but because it was fun). I felt that the second wave was being held up as the “right” form of Feminism, and that third wave was too problematic to take anything good away from. I will always be grateful to the Feminists that come before me, but I have always taken issue with some aspects of second wave Feminism, notably the transphobia that has been exhibited by those such as Germaine Greer. On the other hand, more liberal Feminists such as Caitlin Moran have also came out with some problematic things (and, for the record, you need more than a vagina to be a Feminist in my opinion – something asserted during this opening talk).

Negativity aside, I hadn’t thought about radical Feminism and liberal Feminism too deeply. I had always just thought I was a Feminist and not considered the different types within the movement, which may be something I should think more about. I had another revelation whilst listening to the talk. This was with regard to Feminist literature and how the focus has changed through the waves. It was outlined that during the second wave the focus was on the collective liberation of women, whilst now there is more emphasis on the empowerment of individuals. I found this extremely interesting as I am of the view that the Feminist movement is about collective liberation. I think perhaps the focus on individuals has become skewed from introducing a more intersectional Feminism (of which the talk stressed too) and that a collective voice needs to be formed of all individuals’ voices.

What I think is needed is a merging of both waves, perhaps a movement into a forth wave. There was some playful competition between the Dance Squad at UEA and the cheerleaders. Despite being in the former, I found the mockery of the pyramid of cheerleaders problematic. To be a cheerleader is to be underestimated, and as Feminists, we should not do the same. To be a cheerleader, you must train really hard and, like pole dancing, it is essentially a form of gymnastics and it does not need to be sexualised. This is something I have written poetry about and I feel very strongly about. It angers me that the sexualisation of these sports or art forms has created a sense of stigma around it, so that I feel like I cannot be proud about this video. This is precisely what the term ‘slut shaming’ is about. It seemed like this was being misunderstood – third wave Feminists are not saying that women who are called sluts are sluts, they also believe that there is no such thing as a slut. However, what are second wave Feminists doing when they judge the woman who is cheerleading, pole dancing or even performing a burlesque routine? They are slut-shaming. All these activities, I believe, can be done as a Feminist. This does not mean they are Feminist simply due to the performer having a vagina, but that they can play with the art form in a way that does not mean they are being objectified.

I think it is important to critique one another when not supporting the values of Feminism, but sometimes there can be a danger of mocking women in terms of personal taste. As much as I love Kate Smurthwaite and have found a majority of what she says extremely funny and witty, I don’t think we need to make fun of successful women like Victoria Beckham in the name of Feminism. I’m not completely sure where she stands on Feminism now, rejecting it in the past, perhaps due to education on the term, but she has joined the ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign to encourage girls to be leaders. Again, I think hair removal is a matter of personal taste; I don’t think women should be judged either way. I admire women who don’t share their armpits etc. However, I can remove my hair and still be mindful of the complexities of the reasons why I might do this, even though on the surface it feels like a free choice and something I prefer to do in order to feel feminine, or so that I can feel confident and happy with how I look, or simply because it feels nice to have smooth skin.

I think when it comes to sexuality, it can get really complicated. I was disgusted to hear about pornography where a woman was spat on, called a slut, had her head flushed down the toilet whilst penetrating her. I was shocked to hear that these films and photographs were not even that extreme, but easily click-able for pre-teens accessing mainstream pornography (I think this comment referred to boys, but really, it is both boys and girls who are exposed to this, who are curious about sex and who will discover this content). Then again, there was a part of me that questioned how this applies to BDSM relationships. Again, this is not an area I know much about, and anything that may degrade a woman does make me feel uncomfortable. It was simply a question that arose in my mind, wondering where these people may fit into these ideas. Nevertheless, BDSM relationships are not the point here. This is about pornography and this talk did not shy away from making a strong case to oppose pornography. It did more than my unsure rambles can do and so I would like to hear more about the exploitation of women in porn, so I am able to feel confident that by being completely against porn of all kinds, that I am making the right decision.

So, in summary, I have a lot more research and reading to do before I’m clear on where I stand in terms of the sex industry. However, this presentation has had me more convinced that I need to stand against it, if even purely for the reason that we do not know whether women are being exploited – do we really want to take that chance just because 5% of these women claim they feel empowered? This is also so tied up with Capitalism, with complicates the concept of free choice here. I would love any recommendations on where I can go for information and statistics that could persuade others that porn is always bad for women. This talk also made me think more about the distinction between radical and liberal Feminism, and I feel like I am somewhere in between the two and that perhaps we need a fourth wave to emerge in order to be clear that it is individual voices that form a collective voice, that we need to include intersectional perspectives in a way that makes our voice stronger and not weaker. I apologise if I seem to contradict myself, or if this post doesn’t seem well-structured – working out what to think on these issues is difficult when it comes to knowing what is a choice and what is not. One thing remains, that we must stand united as a sisterhood, taking into account all women.

Feminism in London Conference: Part 3


Feminism and men: Working Together for Gender Equality?

Sandy Ruxton and Nikki van der Gaag

For this workshop we were shown a presentation and then got into groups to discuss different questions.

What’s improved?

Thankfully Feminism has done some positive things over the years. There have been changes within the legal system (though still far from perfect), women have the vote (although not in Saudi Arabia), girls’ access to education has improved generally, and in turn women’s employment prospects. These progressions can be why some people think we are equal already. Women and girls have changed a lot, whilst men and boys have not. There is not one country that has achieved true equality yet, and current rates of progression suggest that it will take 95 years to achieve gender equality according to the UN.

What still needs improvement?

Everything that has improved is still not perfect. One of the biggest problems stopping further progress is a culture of sexism and misogyny, all too clear on the web, but, equally prevalent offline. Violence against women is still a big global issue, and along with this is the maternal mortality rates in the developing world. Women do a majority of care work, which is often unpaid. One way to move forward would be to gain more political power; although having women in power doesn’t necessarily mean that women’s issues will be put at the forefront, it would be a massive step forward. Along with this, the glass ceiling still exists when it comes to women moving up the career ladder.

Examples of Men’s Involvement:
He for She
UNFPA, CARE
Instituto Promundo and Sonke Gender Justice
MenEngage
Men Care

What does men’s involvement not mean?

-It does not mean shifting the focus away from women and girls.
-It does not mean men are less powerful than women (Men’s Rights Activists tend to express the view that women are now more dominant).
-It does not mean men should lead on gender issues, but rather that they are standing besides women and supporting them in the fight for gender equality.

The European Context

Ruxton has focused on Europe, and so he delivered some information about the context here. He noted the impact of the financial crisis has in turn seen a rise of right wing populism and racism. One big issue is sexual exploitation and again, the cultural landscape of patriarchal dominance.

Problems:

-Men may be apathetic or resistant to change, either from benefiting from patriarchy, or being in denial.
-Men’s Rights Activists can be hostile towards women.
-There can be a distraction from support for women.

How to encourage men to get involved:

-Men obviously need to see that there are benefits for men too. Sadly, talking solely about women can lead to defensive attitudes.
-The diversity of men’s experiences needs to be taken into account e.g. class, race, mental health issues.
-A focus on opportunity moments in men’s lives and what they can do practically.
-Assertion that gender equality is right in terms of a a wider concept of social justice.
-It is important to address real problems that men experience and open a dialogue.
-It is vital that alliances are built with women and women’s groups (to avoid being an MRA).

Examples of ways men can get involved:

-Individual acts.
-Through education e.g. Great Men Value Great Women.
-Caring for children.
-Anti-violence programmes e.g. White Ribbon.
-Involving men at senior levels in organisations.
-Government initiatives.
-Thinking internationally.

Now for the group discussions…

Unlearning patriarchal masculinity:

Due to traditional gender roles being part of the patriarchy, it is important that men do not take over what women are saying due to their position in society. A good point to focus on is that these gender roles exist for both men and women and that this is a problem as it restricts us all as humans. This was the first discussion group feedback that highlighted the significance of education, and it was not the last. It was stressed that fatherhood is a key time to communicate and pass on an awareness of notions of masculinity in a way that deconstructs the norm. This group commented on different models of power, and that questioning and challenging problematic views was better than being defensive. This was also noted with regard to group situation. The difficulty of this was noted due to the fact that men are often the beneficiaries of the patriarchy.

Obstacles:

The desire to conform was highlighted as a big obstacles, as well as the idea that it is often not seen as a men’s issue too. This also goes in hand with education about Feminism and why it is important to keep the label. One of the men in the group disagreed that Feminism was something that needed “selling”, but perhaps this isn’t reflected in the opposition that women and Feminists are often faced with. It may be a sad fact that we do have to be aware of how we package it. The concept of the invisibility of privilege was also discussed (which also reinforces the idea that we need to present Feminism in an accessible way).

How can we foster men’s involvement?

Some of the ways to do this came up in the discussion on obstacles, but again, engaging different groups of men was stressed, and doing so in cross-disciplinary ways. A method of engaging men from a young age, or even with those with an outdated view of Feminism, would be to find the language to engage with them without the barrier of the label and then saying ‘hey, well that’s Feminism!’

What actions can men take?

I was in this group and I ended up speaking first from a personal experience where I had felt silenced and wished I had the support from my boyfriend and male friend. Whilst we all agreed speaking out against sexism and misogyny was integral to the fight for equality, it was also seen as important to think about barriers that stop men from doing this, such as the need to conform. It was also highlighted that we needed to eradicate the association of guilt and shame with inequality; it is not a case of men vs. women, and individual men need not take on the burden of representing the patriarchy, but should instead unite against male dominance in society for a more egalitarian environment. Again, an education of Feminism both past and present is a a vital way to take action. A focus on positive actions is needed in order to go with this idea of rebranding Feminism, so that it is not misunderstood, as it often is. Again, there was an emphasis on joining men’s groups with women’s in order to form alliances.

Additional Comments:

Some books were mentioned, including ‘Tackling Macho Values’ and ‘Why Some Men Hurt Women and How Some MenCan Help.’ Some final points were noted about men believing we have equality and having a confusion about Feminism, and with that not making men feel like they are the enemy just because they are ignorant to this. Anger was brought up and there were mixed views on the impact of anger, with some men saying that it could be off-putting, whilst others showing an understanding that it a normal reaction to injustice. A woman commented that anger comes from a position of powerlessness and so it is important to recharge by coming together with like-minded people to talk about these things. It can be exhausting going to yet another boyfriend and explaining why you’re a Feminist and why he should be too. I thought that anger is sometimes inevitable, but it is important to hone these feelings of upset and anger. So, instead of it taking its toll on personal relationships, you can make videos and blog posts about these issues. Then you can show others what you think in a more articulate way than within arguments that make occur spontaneously from conversations on gender equality.

I felt close to tears, but as we were rotating poems between the three of us, I had to put it to the back of my mind and tell myself she must not have understood the poem. I stayed for a bit of the Stepney Sisters, but left early as I was tired and had a long journey to go back to the suburbs. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference and wonder where I will be on the journey of Feminism then.

 

WOW 2014

Last weekend it was WOW festival at the Southbank Centre. I got a weekend pass, despite being at work on the Friday and having lots of poetry things to do (events and workshops with the Burn After Reading Collective and the Roundhouse Collective). On Friday I also got the chance to go to ‘Poetry Live!’ I felt the same as I did when I was younger, and the teachers and pupils felt the same; Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke are great on page, but I’m not keen on their delivery style, and I felt it really didn’t cater to a young age group, where some things would need explaining further in order to know what they were talking about. It picked up with Simon Armitage, and I tried to enjoy Imtiaz Dharker amongst the other noisy school children in my row. Grace Nichols and John Agard were the favourites, and Benjamin Zephaniah wasn’t there as a surprise guest like when I was at school.

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Friday

I went to a discussion between Jude Kelly and actress Maxine Peak, which centred around the world of acting but branched out. It was really interesting and I think it was there where we vowed to complain more actively about the things we don’t like, for example the lack of women on panel shows. I’m going to have to start adding letters of complaint and to my ever-growing to-do list as it is a simple way to be active, and if enough people did it, it could make a change. Meanwhile, the odd tweet will help things along.

I met up with Ruth, a fellow Burn After Reading poet, and we watched a bit of Lyrically Challenged before making our way to The Gallery Cafe. I felt each performer got better as it went along, and I preferred them when they had the musical backing as I thought it suited their style more and they were stronger together. The beats in the background added to the rhythm of their voices working together.

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Saturday

I was sad to miss the first session of the day, and the first talk I went to was ‘Cyber Bullying’. I was disturbed and upset seeing Caroline Criado-Perez’s slideshows of abusive tweets; the violent language, misogyny and clear threats (e.g. posting her address) and hearing about Ava Vidal’s having had lynch threats, and online abuse turning physically threatening and having to run for her life. I came to this talk because I work at a school, and what I thought is that I need to explore language more with my students and not just tell them things are wrong. The sad thing is, these conversations are increasingly being seen as ‘dead time’ and my role exists purely to help students get their C-grades. After finding out that it is mostly young girls that use words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ against each other casually, it has made me feel it is my duty to weave in some Feminism into my lesson plans somehow. In terms of how to deal with cyber abuse, the jury is out. It is about judgement, how much time you have and your mental and physical capacity to engage. Sometimes you need to respond directly, other times you should ignore and respond only on a platform such as a blog like this, and other times, for your own sanity, you need to ignore it. Useful campaigns may take place on Twitter (too large a force to boycott unless a viable alternative is presented, after all, women leaving Twitter will just mean that we are silenced in another area of our daily life), such as #twitterallowsabuse and #twitterissexist so that we can spread awareness and show Twitter negatively for not being active enough (for example, not providing evidence in court cases).

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The next talk I went to was ‘In the Classroom’ where a panel of 11-17 year olds were in conversation with a teacher from Mulberry School (sounded so much better than my school). Although it was horrible to hear how prevalent sexual harassment is in schools, it was inspiring to hear such young women participate in Feminism. I asked a question about the dangers of some of the girls where I work wearing the hijab, less for religious reasons, and more for its confusion for being about modesty, with girls saying they see it as a uniform they put on so that boys don’t think they are ‘bad’, therefore as a way of disuading them from sexually harassing them. This idea reinforces the virgin/whore dichotomy and the misogynistic misconception that a woman is ever “asking for it” with what she wears. I was afraid of asking the question, in case Aneesa thought I was assuming anything about her own reasons for wearing the hijab, but she responded with an articulate plea to show girls that they can be whoever they want to be, and to explore issues within relationships between boys and girls.

Lastly, I went to the highlights, where poet Anthony Anaxagorou made a great point about the hierarchy of offensive comments in schools in terms of how they are dealt with. It made me reflect on my own actions and how even as a woman an a feminist, I haven’t treated the sexist comments as seriously as racist or homophobic comments. The ‘why’ is certainly something to think about here, and partly goes along with the idea that if you complain about sexism, it wouldn’t be taken as seriously by SLT etc. which is an unfair assumption. In the same way, some of us seem to accept comments like the ones made from Dappy on Celebrity Big Brother (I had heard about this stuff but I hadn’t actually seen any until now); we complain about it on various social media, but often the action that is needed is not taken because of this hierarchy that Anthony was talking about.

Although I think Anthony is great (check out his political night Out-Spoken), I wasn’t sure about his comment about ‘where do boys go?’ in relation to Feminism, because I believe that they need to learn through Feminism so they know that it is not something that is against them, but it is something that fights for their right to be who they are and who they want to be. I highly recommend this book after seeing Michael Kaufman a couple of times: The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. There are also more books that could be useful in terms of this discourse. That said, I agree it’s not so easy to find, because when you type in “men and feminism” into Amazon, you need to decipher the useful books from the misogynistic ones (and the ones that say they aren’t, but are). Maybe the lack of these books is because of social conditioning, some men only seem to care about these issues when they are about men, for instance, when texting my friend he said he would be interested in going to Being a Man at Southbank, but not Women of the World… whilst I was more interested in BAM than my boyfriend. #whataboutthemenz

Caroline Bird also gave us an insight into the Under-10 Feminists group, which sounded fabulously inspiring, and Shami told us of the importance of legal aid, from her talk ‘State Failure: Human Rights Principles’. There really is too much to include in one post, so I must highly recommend both BAM and WOW.

Sunday

A quick note of what I was able to go to on Sunday before I went to my poetry workshop. I decided to attend the Funny Women comedy workshop. It was very popular and I didn’t get to share anything, but as much as it would have been good to get up in front of everyone in terms of totally getting out of my comfort zone, the women who did were great and I spoke to a few nice people, including Lynne Parker (the workshop leader) and the stall holders downstairs. Then I went to the workshop/discussion on body image – The Personal is Still Political #ownyourbody. Here I found that 35% of girls have dieted by the age of SEVEN. Not only is the age shocking for anyone, but from someone who has never dieted, it is even more so. But, perhaps most women will find that confession about myself shocking, considering that 9/10 women diet. That said, the biggest reason for me not dieting is not because I have amazing body confidence, but because I like chocolate too much and I have always known it’s stupid and ineffective (93% of dieters regain the weight). Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness; girls and women are literally starving themselves to death. In this talk, I spoke to a lovely woman who I regretted not keeping in contact with as I went off. It was a weekend of honesty, and despite the statistics and evidence, sometimes you just need some human encounters.

Listen Softly London

My next gig is on Wednesday 19th March at Listen Softly London: Take Stock – A Celebration Of Pen Wielding Women, where I will be performing alongside Sara Hirsch, Ollie O’Neil, Fran Lock and Loren Kleinman. I will be bringing my best Feminist poetry to explore issues of body image, gender roles and rape culture. I haven’t blogged in ages and this has taken me over two hours to write, so I am going to post away and hope to see you next week!

Feminism in London & Reclaim the Night 2013

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Fighting a cold, I headed out early on Saturday morning for the Institute of Education for a day of workshops and talks as part of Feminism in London. Kate Smurthwaite  hosted the event, with opening speeches from Caroline Lucas, Shabina Begum, Natalya Dell and a poem by Leah Thorn. Issues were raised on disability, bi-visibility, violence against women (particularly the rise in acid attacks) and women in the media. All before midday. The rest of the day involved going to particular workshops.

Linked Systems of Power

For this workshops, we were introduced to a panel including Cynthia Cockburn, Pragna Patel, Jenny Nelson and Ece Kocabicak. Leah Thorn was in my group, as well as some ladies I recognised, and one man. We were all white, possibly all university educated and mostly middle-class. This was a common theme for most of the attendees. This made the task quite difficult; we were told to draw on our own experiences and were meant to be making links between Feminism and systems of power connected to things like race and class. I tried to draw the conversation out, but really, the task was flawed in that we needed a variety of different experiences.

That said, we weren’t short of material, and even when it came to thinking of strategies, we didn’t have enough time to get everything out. What I think the whole process showed, was what was needed in the future. Feminism needs to engage with a wider community of people. Perhaps for the programme next year, the conference could be centred around intersectionality. Each workshop could be about how Feminism links with the following: race, class, sexuality, disability, religion, culture, capitalism and gender (one about men and one about women?) – plus any others anyone can think up.

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Kick-Ass Activism

This workshop was lead by some of the ‘No More Page Three‘ team. I was annoyed with myself as I was not as vocal as I should have been, which meant the group I was in took a different route than I would have wanted. I came to the talk to explore what I can do with She Grrrowls, so I should have started off by answering ‘what pisses you off?’ with women not being valued and represented in the arts. Instead we explored women’s representation in advertising and the media. What ensued was a very well organised workshop which enabled everyone to walk away with a new campaign to give a go at running. I don’t have the time to take the lead on a new project myself, so I’m not sure if our campaign will go anywhere.

I didn’t feel we were all on the same page, and there was an argument within the group when the only male in the group suggested a play on ‘that’s what she said’. Another member wasn’t happy with a man making the name up when there were all these women in a group, considering it was a Feminist conference. His friend disagreed and expressed her outrage, called the other woman out for being ‘sexist’. I could see both points of view.

In some ways, it is irrelevant that the idea came from a man as it shouldn’t matter what gender you are… that’s kind of one of the goals of Feminism. On the other hand, if the woman’s tone had been more light-hearted, it could have gone down better e.g. ‘come on girls, we can’t let the boy have the only good idea! Get your brains into gear!’ However, I sensed this woman was serious about what she said, in which case, the others would do well to remember that this woman was more mature and has lived in a time where, it could be argued, women had it much worse off and were silenced. Some Feminists prefer having women only events because it allows them a space where they can have their voices heard, as they are able to express themselves more easily.

The guy argued ‘I’m here aren’t I?’ in objection that he is there, supporting the aims of Feminism… but I didn’t really agree with that. It came off arrogant, like it was enough for him to just “be there” rather than try to understand where the other woman was coming from and playing the victim. I didn’t agree with her, but I thought the whole thing was handled really badly between both parties and it left the group completely fragmented.

Closing Speeches

Dr. Victoria Showunmi chaired the last section of the conference, alongside Gita Sahgal, Femi Otitoju and Finn MacKay. Within this section we heard about Sahgal’s campaigning for secular governing, awards for the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize and the incredible closing speech by MacKay. The words in this final speech reignited and reinforced the reasons why we were there, and why we continue to fight for the goals of Feminism: “our movement is here to change your world and save it for all of us.”

Stop Porn Culture

I booked for the post-conference presentation on porn culture. Although many people already said there are campaigns against porn in the UK, this presentation showed a brief summary of what other parts of the world are doing to tackle porn culture, and examples of the harm it is doing. The examples were fairly obvious to someone like me who, although not always in the know about pop culture, is generally aware of things like Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s controversy at the VMAs, Rihanna’s new video for ‘Pour It Up’ and the fact that the game Grand Theft Auto includes a part where you can go to prostitutes, kill them and get your money back. For those less aware of how porn culture infiltrates other areas beyond the porn industry, these particular examples were new to them.

I wrote down the question ‘is there such thing as Feminist porn or would porn’s alternative be termed erotica?’ It wasn’t a question I planned on voicing, however, they had set aside twenty-five minutes for questions and answers and someone was talking about how they received backlash from Feminists, including Simone de Beauvoir, thirty years ago after running an anti-porn campaign. They were accused of being moralistic, prudish and censoring. This person seemed to be saying to be careful about how they represent the campaign, but then also said that at this conference they had not been well-received when they were critical of sex-workers.

After this issue of representing the campaign’s message, I wanted to be clear on where they stood with porn. I asked my question very politely as I’m not one to say something unless I’ve thought a lot and prepared what I’m saying. I congratulated and agreed with the negative impact of porn on society, then said I may be naive, but wondered if they had thoughts of whether there is such a thing as Feminist porn etc. I was disappointed when my question was completely brushed off and not engaged with at all, not even to be told what they believed other than something that basically seemed like “go elsewhere, this isn’t the campaign for you, fuck off.” Obviously, that’s not what they said, but from wanting a genuine answer, it knocked me back and made me feel really emotional. Thankfully, a couple of others said that they had been thinking the same thing and a few of us chatted afterwards. If they can’t convince fellow Feminists of their ideas, good luck convincing the general public.

A few interesting points came out of these questions. The first was the very first speaker from the floor, a mature woman who exclaimed she wanted to “reclaim the word cunt!” The microphone was swiftly taken away from both her and me. Someone also argued that in films we see reflections of life, which includes sex. Yet, another person argued that standard films simulate sex, but porn differs in that it is real sex (well… “real” sex) or as the speaker said “prostitution in front of a camera”. I have to admit, it got me thinking… is porn always bad? Maybe it is. That said, I don’t think we should completely ban pornography. Partly because it would be impossible, and the industry would be even worse than it is already. At least if Feminist porn or erotica or whatever you want to call it… if an alternative to the hardcore mainstream porn exists, then maybe there is a way to rule out the wide-spread misogyny in the porn industry.

If we thinking about pornagraphic images rather than films, I would say that it can be difficult to tell the difference between some porn and non-porn images. Perhaps this is an indication of the problem of porn culture, but if we accept the kind of Feminism that doesn’t shame people on the amount of flesh on show, then how can we distinguish between what is considered porn and what is not? Is it measured by the number of items of clothing? What we should really be addressing is the images themselves, whether in porn, in the media, or in art. Do they objectify? Is it misogynistic? Is it offensive and damaging? Surely we can keep our freedoms and speak out against those we think are unacceptable, rather than censor everything pornographic?

I have to say that I don’t know if I can support this campaign. Is all porn bad? I have to say that the jury is out, for now. It is something I need to think more deeply about, but my gut instinct is that I can see the porn industry as bad and believe in the education of young people against mainstream porn, yet I can still believe in a free society where we don’t outright ban porn as a whole. For the viewers of porn, it is about sexual pleasure, but for the porn industry it is about making money. That’s where it gets messy.

The ‘Stop Porn Culture’ conference is at the Kids Club at 10am-3pm on 15th March.

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Reclaim the Night

To finally wrap things up, I met up with a friend for the Reclaim the Night march through London. I’d been before but only managed to make part of it. This time I was there for the whole journey. It was really empowering, but what felt amazing was the support from people on the street as we passed, chanting and taking a stand. After the march, we dispersed and I quickly made my way back to Russell Square. I managed to pick up a Nando’s chicken pita on the way to the SU bar. I performed alongside Rosie Wilby and Naomi Paxton as Ada Campe. I was first on and a little nervous; I think it’s difficult to say “hey, these are Feminist poems” because Feminism is different for different people, but I hope that people enjoyed it and found some common ground. I told people about She Grrrowls, and one fellow Feminist and writer had already been there, which is great. On that note, the next She Grrrowls is Monday 18th November!

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Review: She Grrrowls! Spoken Word Launch Party 11/09/13

Read the review for the launch for She Grrrowls on Sabotage Reviews!

Sabotage

– reviewed by Irina Jauhiainen

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She Grrrowls! Spoken Word launched on Wednesday 11th of September. The pilot night’s theme was Politics, which seemed a little scary in the context of a female spoken word event – but this poetry performance fan was happily surprised by the variety of performance as well as the excellent quality of the night.

A rather charming hipster-ish venue …

The show took place at The Gallery Café in Bethnal Green. It seems like a hipstery café that would be lovely to have lunch in, but needs quite an effort to transform into a performance venue. The café’s large tables make it a rather clumsy audience space. The best way to be comfortable is to get to the venue early, have some food (the menu looked fantastic) and sit at a table before the space gets crowded. There was a slightly late start for the…

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