The Norwich Radical: My One Year Anniversary

The other week I wanted to show Bande de Filles aka Girlhood, to 6th Form students in order to get them to come along to the Feminist Club. They had been keen after having Feminista UK coming in to run a workshop with them. Sadly, my efforts at putting colour-posters up, guying popcorn and even buying the DVD specifically to show the film were wasted at this time. It was rather depressing to hear the music at the start repeat in an empty classroom. I guess they’re overworked. And as an English Mentor, I keep giving them extra reading to do as it is!

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I’ve been writing for The Norwich Radical for a year now, where I look at the arts through a feminist lens. Girlhood was a film I highlighted for its Feminist credentials. So, I thought this would be an opportune time to highlight the articles I’ve written thus far. You can get a whole list by clicking here.

In order of appearance:

I’m Sorry You’re Offended

Sirens at Soho Theatre

Soho Comedy: Women, ‘It’s Like They’re Real People’

Emmy the Great: Oslo, Hackney

The Bechdel Test Fest

Women of the World Festival 2015: Part 1 and Part 2

Three Women Poets

Women Fashion Power: Not a Multiple Choice Question

Woman Verses World

The Place for Poetry: Fragment and Process, Visual Culture and Performance

The Last Word

Soon Every House Will Have One

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To Kill a Mockingbird – Is it Just Me?

In Defence of Telling Girls They Can

Let’s Talk About Sex: The Institute of Sexology and Sex in the Afternoon

Feminist Picks: Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Homework: Molly Naylor and Katie Bonna

Arts Funding: Young People, Women and Intersectionality

Suffragette: The Fight is Not Over

The Hollow of The Hand

Hannah Silva’s ‘Shlock!’

The World Goes Pop

Warsan Shire’s Her Blue Body

Richard Yates: An Accidental Feminist?

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One-Liners: Edinburgh Fringe Festival Reviews

I’ve written more detailed reviews for The Norwich Radical on shows by the Kitten Killers, Luke Stephens, Kate Smurthwaite, Pole and Hannah Chutzpah. Here I’ve included some smaller reviews to give you a flavour of some of my other many highlights.

Megan Ford: Feminasty

Satirical, character sketches and comedic speeches on gender, Ford switches between characters to connect comedy to more serious issues. We get a cool, informative zine on the way out, and a badge.

Shazia Mirza: A Word In Progress

There were moments I wasn’t sure about: the mention of ‘political correctness’, jokes about fat people, and Jewish people, and the upset at the mention of the girls who left Bethnal Green Academy. I work at the school down the road, and it’s something that directly impacts on the students I teach, but perhaps the point was to create discomfort. The theory that they went “for dick” seemed sadly poignant once the laughter died down and we were told that “epilator, knickers and body lotion” were on the top of their packing list. This is a slightly longer review, because I’m interested to see where the show will go, because, although funny, the ending – a commentary on Islam and so-called “ISIS” was momentous and powerful.

Bridget Christie: A Book For Her

There were at least three acts who mentioned the tax on sanitary products, but Christie suggested the ingenious idea of sending bloody knickers with “END VAT’ on them to George Osborne. In this show, she gave an ironic definition of what being a Feminist means and turned to politics in the UK and USA, with an intersectional focus on race issues.

Katherine Ferns: Conscious Incompetent

I disagreed with points made about “manspreading”, which is simply indicative of patriarchy, and as much a part of it as anything else, I didn’t like jibes at Beyoncé, and I didn’t like the use of the word “retarded”. However, she also made the obligatory tampon tax joke, and her ability to touch on taboo subjects such as incest, rape and pedophilia was both clever and somehow funny (and not in an offensive way). She spoke frankly of what difficulties in her life, from depression to drugs, and weighed up whether decisions she’d made were brave or stupid. Well, I’d say the brave outweighs the stupid.

Jack Rooke: Good Grief

He probably won’t want his youth commenting on, but I left Rooke’s show in awe of what he is doing. Not only has he created this wonderful show, which has the perfect balance of comedy and more sombre moments, but he is symbolic of how the personal is political. What goes on with the government directly impacts on our lives, and through The Good Grief Project, he is challenging current changes to the Widowed Parent’s Allowance.

Harry Baker: The Sunshine Kid

You couldn’t help but smile throughout this show, as Baker took us through his life prior to university to now through his poetry, which can be found in the book of the same title by Burning Eye Books.

David Lee Morgan: Building God

An intense show about revolution and communism, Morgan’s voice kept audiences captivated through his ways with words and the beat of the music he played as a backdrop.

Stephanie Laing: Nincompoop

A show about shame that started with not letting an old lady sit down, and inevitably went on to talk about drunken behaviour, bad dreams and sexual antics. With songs and a flute, Chesney Hawks, and a serious note about shame and self-harm, what’s not to love?

Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

I gave this show a standing ovation. I’ve never been made to cry from watching dancing before this. I bought the play text, but I wish I could relive the experience as I read. Bryony Kimmings and her real-life partner Tim Grayburn use comedy, dance, and spoken word to speak about mental health more honestly than I’ve ever seen before. It was incredibly touching and I wanted to cry a lot more than I actually did.

Sophia Walker: Can’t Care, Won’t Care

An insight into the care industry through a legal battle between the state and the carer. This shows as in with such jobs, there is minimal pay and agency for those who truly care about the individuals they work for, the service users. It was honest and passionate, and so heartbreaking.

The Kagools

No words and a whole lot of audience participation. I was thankful to do no more than eat a Hula Hoop. The best part was their use of pre-recorded material on the screen, and that whilst it felt like each part was a random act, it tied neatly together by the end.

Elf Lyons: Being Barbarella

I loved the Feminist angle of wanting to be this confident person, and wanting to be empowered sexually and otherwise. Lyon’s mis-matching accents was especially funny, as well as her use of costume.

Ben Norris: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Family

Ben Norris explores his relationship with his father through a hitchhike through all the places his dad had lived, proving an interesting story that explored masculinity as a whole and was sure to connect with many men in the audience.

Aisling Bea: Plan Bea

I loved this and was laughing constantly. She had good accents and I liked the reclaiming of ‘girl’ as a word of complexities, and there were slight political points, but worked in a subtle way. Again, this was about confidence and owning your own “shame” (her being in this heavy metal pirate video)

Mark Watson: Flaws

A show about flaws, obviously, and lacking self-esteem, mental health issues and turning to alcohol. Watson is such a warm character that you can’t help but warm to him (unless you were one of the three women who left after fifteen minutes).

Paula Varjack: How I Became Myself (By Becoming Someone Else)

A really interesting piece, as well as in terms of subject matter – the idea of changing your identity – but also in terms of how this was done visually – mixing front performance, through the camera and on screen. 

So It Goes

Another show with no words spoken aloud, but written on white boards, using props and dance to illustrate the story of Hannah’s dad, dealing with his death, and her friend David helping her to tell this story. There was laughter, and many, many tears.

Sara Hirsch: How Was It For You?

‘I can’t rhyme you,’ Hirsch proclaims, asserting why she can’t write a poem for her then-boyfriend, in the middle of what is almost a long love poem to the ex in question. But it was also a love poem to herself, and for everyone out there searching for love and the meaning of life.

Jemima Foxtrot: Melody

Beautifully intricate language, so poetic and mixed in, as the title would suggest, with a’cappella song. Foxtrot plays with humour and the unexpected in this wonderfully crafted piece.

Kirsten MacGregor: Hello Cruel World

I couldn’t believe this comedian was just 18 years old. It wasn’t only her grumpy persona that made her seem mature, but her confidence and comic timing.

Michael Burdett: Strange Face – Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording

Really interesting true story of… well, it does what it says on the tin. There’s a book with lots of people, including well-known people, photographed whilst listening to the a rare recording of ‘Cello Song’ with their stories.

Mark Stephenson: Amsterdam

A hilarious story about an absent father, a beautiful marriage and selective mutism. Or it is? Very much recommend.

Izzy Tennyson: Brute

I find it difficult to create characters that exist beyond binaries of good and bad, yet Izzy Tennyson managed to do this in the creation of ‘Brute’. In the classic conversational style of Tennyson, she embodies a teenage girl to tell a story that is familiar in the sense of going to a single-sex state school, but looking into why girls can be bullies, exploring the complexities of a psyche so often dismissed.

Dan Simpson: Nerdsmith

Reading poems from his Burning Eye Book, Applied Mathematics, Simpson attempts and admittedly fails to get to the heart of an emotional provocation. But at the end, it’s okay, as the audience enjoy his playing with language, from puns to extended metaphors. I bought his book in hope of some poetic inspiration!

Tim Renkow: Kim Jong-Un, Mohammed, Jesus and Other Power-Hungry Maniacs

Renkow was knowingly provocative in his comedy from the onset, warning the audience that his record number of walk-outs is nine people. However, I was most offended by the implication that, in telling an anecdote to illustrate negative attitudes to disability, his erection was due to the woman’s “fear”. There were certainly other moments where I questioned where he was going, but you didn’t have to wait for long to see that he was mocking injustices he sees in society.

So, it was pretty much all amazing…

There were some I enjoyed more than others, but the only show I was completely disappointed by was Tony Law. I’d seen him before, but a majority of this improvised show I didn’t find funny, and on top of that I was worried about him, especially when he started to drink a pint after telling the audience he’s quit drinking. I hope he’s okay…

My itinerary for Edinburgh Fringe (aka recommendations):

Wednesday 26th August

Arrive: 12.40pm at Edinburgh Airport

Sophia Walker: Can’t Care, Won’t Care
Megan Ford: Feminasty
Kitten Killers: Woolf
Competing in the BBC Fringe Slam
Shazia Mirza
Gabriel Ebulue: Armchair Anarchist

Thursday 27th August

Bridget Christie: A Book For Her
Tony Law: Frillemorphesis
Harry Baker: The Sunshine Kid
David Lee Morgan: Building God
Jacke Rooke: Good Grief
Katherine Ferns: Conscious Incompetent
Stand Up & Slam
Kate Smurthwaite: The Wrong Sort of Feminist
Stephanie Laing: Nincompoop
Pole

Friday 28th August

Bryony Kimmings & Tim Grayburn: Fake It til You Make It
John Osborne: Most People Aren’t That Happy Anyway
The Kagools
Ben Norris: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family
Elf Lyons: Being Barbarella
Aisling Bea: Plan Bea
Mark Watson: Flaws

Saturday 29th August

Paula Varjack: How I Became Myself (By Becoming Someone Else)
So It Goes
Sara Hirsch: How Was It For You?
Jemima Foxtrot: Melody
Hannah Chutzpah: Asking Nicely
BBC Fringe Slam Final
Chris Betts: Social Animal

Sunday 30th August

Dave Pickering: What about the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity
Laurence Owen: Cinemusical
Izzy Tennyson: Brute
Phil Jupitus: Apologist Now!
Tim Renkow: Kim Jong-Un, Muhammad, Jesus and Other Power Hungry Maniacs

10.45pm – Megabus Gold home

I’m seeing like 35 shows in five days. Wish me luck!

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 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 & 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 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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