Feminism in London & Reclaim the Night 2013

October 078

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.

October 097

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.

October 084

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!

October 093 October 096

“Are you doing burlesque?” – “No, I’m doing poetry”

On Sunday 4th March I finally made my first appearance at Finger in the Pie Cabaret at Madame JoJo’s. I did a sound check which was a bit odd as I’ve never really done one before. I then had a long time to wait in the dressing room. My nerves were building in this time, and made all the more intense as the room was bursting with other performers; mostly burlesque dancers. The atmosphere was more intense than other poetry gigs, because there was more of a sense of unity and collectivism – we were putting on a show together, rather than just individually putting on each act. It was a very supportive and friendly environment. Everyone was lovely, but burlesque dancers Shady Lane and Velvet Lune spoke to me the most. Marga, another burly girl, from Italy, made a great effort to speak to everyone. Although not in the show, Annaliza Jennings was also really lovely – she does the marketing side of The Cheek of It!

The butterflies in my stomach, and sudden mind-blanks regarding my act, reminded me of my days at Gemini Dancers shows (Royal Albert Hall baby!) and UEA Dance Squad and Pole Dancing competitions. Before taking to the stage, the hosts (Moonfish Rhumba, reminded me a bit of Flight of the Conchords) assumed I would be doing burlesque when checking my act, and I told them I was actually doing poetry. They were going to mention I had books to sale (Carmina’s Poetry Tease) but sadly didn’t which is a shame because I would have mentioned it myself at the end and maybe would have sold some. It’s not really something you can just mention every time someone compliments you!

I wish someone had filmed the performance as it pretty much went perfectly. I was thrown a bit at one point when I thought someone had been laughing inappropriately, but I remembered all my poems – yay! I felt I performed well and gave a performance worthy of the £10/12 entry (although, as we discussed, none of us were getting paid). I think most of the material I chose suited the environment and I got a few laughs. And although I felt a little less glamorous than all the burly girls, without the glitter, I thought that my outfit gave a nod to the cabaret surroundings, wearing my pink fascinator (which I love). As I stepped out of the backstage area and into the audience, I was surprised by the people sitting directly behind the door. A guy gave me a thumbs up (which I will assume was in approval of my performance) and a few other people congratulated me on my efforts and said they enjoyed it. One girl put it on the same level as Glastonbury performances (organisers, take note for 2013!) Overall, it was a great show and I was really happy to be a part of it.

I did decide to take out one the poems I was going to read as it may have been misconstrued, as there is a line that says ‘I will not wear nipple tassels and knickers and call myself burlesque.’ I had the feeling that this may be seen as a negative statement and I didn’t want to have to explain myself. What I mean by that line is more complicated than a statement about burlesque dancing. It is more about the idea that not everyone can be a burlesque dancer, and is more a reference to girls that go out clubbing in such attire (I have witnessed a picture of one girl where she only had one of the nipple tassels on) and a comic poking at myself for times I may have gone out with too-revealing clothes, where the goal is to attract male attention. It is a statement to say I will not act like that, with an implication that maybe you have in the past but need to embrace the past and what you have learnt.

It is also about the discussions that took place at Madame JoJo’s. The burly girls told me that the clientele of the Proud Cabaret at Fenchurch Street wasn’t nice. I got the impression it had a seedy vibe, and attracted leery men that just want to see naked women, which is not what burlesque is about. If I were ‘Proud’ I’d take on board the feelings of the performers and get stricter with the audience. The point is, there is so much more to burlesque than simply taking your clothes off and I realised that more than ever being in the company of such lovely ladies; witnessing the nerves, the glitter, the hairspray and the huge amount of preparation it takes to get an act polished to perfection.

Here’s the full poem:

Tick the Box

I will buy a Yorkie bar, let it melt in my mouth and drink milk,
ignore the calories and not stick my fingers down my throat to be sick.
I will dream I have a dick
at night in my bed alone, wrapped in Cath Kidson flowers

I will be unattainable, no I’m not available
for you to screw, do what you do, and leave in the gutter
like butter wouldn’t melt.
And any tears I cry are simply for the time I’ve wasted in my life
over those that didn’t deserve more than the stir
of the spoon in my cup of tea,
because life is short and some people you just don’t need.

I will drink a cocktail or a can of lager,
and don’t want to know you if you judge me on the choice.
I will be shy as I am but you will never take my voice.

I will not wear nipple tassels and knickers and call myself Burlesque.
I will not fuck drunk, load each hole with spunk and call myself a feminist.
I will not be a nought
or throw myself over the balcony
or drown myself in the river
or have my tongue cut out by some Tereus
I will not be trapped in the attic
or be called over-dramatic,
or be told to rest, suffocated by yellow wallpaper
until my death.

I will not let you put me in a box of what you think female should be,
all I know is who I am, and I can only be me.

It has been a bit of a Feminist weekend. On the Saturday I had taken the day off work to go to the Million Women Rise march. Sadly, none of my friends came along so I had to go on my own. It was a rainy morning but by the time I arrived at Bond Street, the sun was shining. I got a bit of free cake from the Hare Krishna stand and chatted to a couple of people. We marched through the streets with tourists snapping cameras and filming like we were celebrities.

It was great doing the different chants and making a statement in such a way, that seemed to have more impact than Reclaim the Night due to its central pathway. My favourite was ‘power to the women, women have the power, sisters can you hear me, getting strong by the hour. Power! Power!’ This was because, it felt (needless to say really) very empowering. The rally in Trafalgar Square was interesting, informative and very moving.

Taking advantage of my time off work, I also went with a friend I hadn’t seen in ages to the Hayward Gallery. David Shrigley’s Brain Activity and Jeremy Deller’s Joy in People was showing. I’d only seen Shrigley in books and in collective exhibitions.

It was great to see the variety of work he has done and his 3D work, which is pretty much like walking into a pop-up book of his illustration work. He is known for being very comic, but it was interesting to see the more macabre side.

I was not really that aware of Deller,
however, I really enjoyed what he brought to the show, and found it interesting how
a thread of the concept of obsession in his work. The mining stories reminded me of my Grandad as he is from Barnsley, which was the setting at the point I started viewing from. It was also intriguing to watch the piece about Depeche Mode fans.

It also documented a lot
of the 80s and 90s which gave it a real sense of that era. I especially liked the quirkiness of the cafe installation, and the recreation of his bedroom exhibition. I also liked Pensées, which included extracts from his artist’s book, compiled from toilet graffiti – and in this case, surrounding an actual toilet. When a queue formed, this amused me quite a bit.

I found both artists inspiring in terms of my own work. Deller’s bedroom piece had elements of my own idea for my MA showcase. Shrigley inspired me in the more general sense, about how text and imagery work together, as well as this mixture of comedy and tragedy.

Well, it’s a longer post than usual, so if you’ve made it to here, congratulations. One last note; you can now find my work on Zukuri UnLtd – I have one piece up and running, with the next to follow shortly.

On here, look out for the Artist of the Month for March. As you can see, I’ve been busy, but it’ll be posted soon. Meanwhile, see if you can guess who it might be?! Also, I will be attending Lady Ha Ha  at Norwich Playhouse, to celebrate International Women’s Day. Let me know what you’re doing for it!

xxx

We are the 99% We are the 52%

The last couple of weeks has been great.  My lovely boyfriend greeted me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  This may not seem like a big deal to you but I’m not used to such romantic gestures and it is, in fact, the first bouquet I have ever been given by a boy!  Well, at 22, he is a man.  But this had me all overwhelmed and girly. Although I always say my favourite flowers are Antirrhinums, I don’t think they do bouquets haha!  These pretty Roses are a such a classic and it had me smiling for days to receive them.

Last Tuesday I saw Billy Bragg for the first time.  I wasn’t familiar with his music but I knew Sound of Rum, having supported Kate Tempest, and was recently familiar with Akala from the programme Life of Rhyme.  I listened to some Billy on spotify and decided it was unmissable!  I tried to get some friends interested but had no luck, so I went on my own.  I went to Nando’s first and annoyingly the girl who served me got the table number wrong so I basically ended up missing most of Sound of Rum which sucked, but what I saw was amazing, as ever.  Both Kate Tempest and Billy Bragg’s words were so inspirational that I welled up.

The whole event was really empowering and there was a great sense of solidarity.  I would have loved to be in the standing section but I had my laptop with me and that wouldn’t have been sensible.  I met a nice Billy Bragg fan though and so that was cool as well!

"Hi, how can I help?"

I have been working hard at Sainsbury’s and have done about 11 hours overtime, woop!  It’s pretty good working there, I’m an even bigger fan of the company now, especially finding out they do a lot of funding for the arts.  Also, can you believe it’s been about 11 years since Jamie Oliver started his partnership with Sainsbury’s?!  That’s like, half of my life, argh!    The only thing I’d like to change is to work two days and not three, and not to work Saturdays!  I’m probably going to miss Million Women Rise because of it!  Plus, I was late for Reclaim the Night because I finished work at the meeting time. I attempted to take the tube part of the way but ended up walking to the Camden Centre and being around half-an-hour early.  I contacted the other UEA Feminist Society committee members and eventually, I heard a roar from around the corner and saw some people looking.  I had found the march! I ran past two guys making gestures and spouting something nonsensical.

Adrenaline rushed through my body as I heard the chants clearer “Whatever we wear, wherever we go yes means yes and no means no!” and “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Sexual Violence has got to go!”  I managed to meet up with the group pretty quickly and was so happy to be able to join for the last five or ten minutes of the march.

We gathered in the hall of the Camden Centre and before I even had time for the toilet, the speakers started…

  • Women against the cuts – Eve Featherstone
  • Abortion rights – Kate Smurthwaite
  • NUS National Women’s Officer – Estelle Hart
  • NASUWT Officer
  • Million Women Rise – Femi Otitoju

Although the reality of things like the cuts, particularly in relation to violence against women, were daunting, it was another inspiring evening.  Cutting billions of pounds of funding for organisations that help victims of violence, stopping free contraception and abortions… it is all making steps backwards.  This was illustrated shockingly by Kate, pulling out a wire coat-hanger.  The fact is that forced pregnancy will also bring the country down economically, and will be extremely harmful for those from low-income backgrounds because they will not be able to afford unwanted pregnancies, financially, let alone emotionally!

I ended the night with some jerk chicken and a cheeky bit of rice from the nice man serving me, for £2.  And with that, I’ll wrap it up. xxx