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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