Tag Archives: women-only

Fem:Ale a beer festival for women

This weekend sees the first ever Fem.Ale festival taking place in Norwich – a three-day event celebrating delicious beer, brewed by women, enjoyed by everyone. We caught up with festival founder and curator Erica Horton to find out why this is event is so important and why it’s happening now:

The myth that the pub is a predominantly male space, and that beer and ale are enjoyed more by men than women, is unfortunately still resonant at the moment. The assumption that men are making the beer for other men, and women are used as a way of selling it, rather than as collaborators and creators, is a massive problem.

Even something as rudimentary as a pump clip that may go unnoticed, depicting busty women serving ales with names like ‘Buxom Blonde’ and ‘Red Head’, show how women can be seen as a commodity in this business; a commodity that is often sexualised. There is no male alternative to this, though I’m sure the male equivalent would involve beers called ‘Landlord’ or ‘Trawlerboy’, depicting positions of power. However there seems to be a shift in beer culture right now in Norfolk.

Norfolk loves its ale and there certainly lots of ‘old man’ pubs to be found, but not only is it no longer unusual to see women drinking beer, here it’s not unusual for women to make the beer.

I’m not sure this is true on a national scale yet, either because the beer isn’t as good or perhaps the myths hold more weight, but Norfolk seems to be at the forefront of a gender change in the beer industry so it seems apt that we’re having this festival.

One of the ways we can break down the myths surrounding the female relationship with beer is by looking at women who are working within the industry itself. FEM.ALE is focused less on trying to get more women drinking the stuff and on showcasing the female brewers themselves, providing a platform for networking and collaboration to build support for women in the industry. That’s something we hope to get out of the panel on Saturday afternoon. Do women feel separate or other to male brewers? We want to give women space to talk about their experiences as women in what is otherwise perceived to be a predominantly male industry.

I’ve had people (only men up until now) asking me why I am putting on a female specific ale event, saying beer doesn’t have a gender and should just be about good beer. In an ideal world this would be true, but when you look at pub culture and specifically beer culture it would seem that women’s behavior is being policed to a certain extent. Questions are still raised about whether women are ‘ladylike’ enough if they drink beer, should they be having halves if they are going to drink ale? This specific gendering of behavior needs to be questioned on a grassroots level, otherwise the everyday cultures that ascribe and normalise different appropriate behaviours are reinforced.

For me, as a feminist, it is crucial that these heteronormative gender binary distinctions are continually questioned and those constructions of gender need to be broken down. There is an assumption that the pub is a male domain where men make the beer, women serve and men drink. Admittedly this stereotype does occasionally ring true, but we wanted to break with what was perceived as traditional and celebrate the women who make ale and love ale.

It may seem that there are more problematic issues to be focusing on in feminism than simply what alcoholic beverages men and women are typically drinking, that this is a trivial matter, but women working in the industry face sexism and it is important to confront that.

CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) who currently have a female director, Christine Cryne, put forward a motion at the last AGM to tackle sexism and racism within the industry, so this is a really exciting time to be hosting an event like this; there is a real sense of camaraderie and purpose surrounding it.

I hope that FEM.ALE will get both men and women openly talking about these issues. We want to break the everyday cultures regarding what is ‘appropriate’ behavior for women in a traditionally male-dominated public space… whilst enjoying lots of delicious beer in the process, of course.

The three-day event is part of the City of Ale Festival and is providing a home for female brewed beers within the city wide festival. It’s taking place this weekend (Friday 23rd – Sunday 25th May) at The Plasterers Arms in Norwich. It will feature panel discussions, beer tasting, live music, all of which are free apart from Dea Latis’ ‘Beers with Breakfast’, which is a ticketed event. Full event program information can be found on the festival’s website, or follow @FemAleFestival.

Ellie Jones is a musician currently playing guitar with Buoys and Hannah Lou Clark, co-founder of Gravy Records and works with Transgressive Artist & Producer Management. Feminist and beer lover.

Photo: Simon Finlay

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Why mixed therapy groups may do more harm then good

This week, to coincide with the national Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re publishing a series of articles looking at feminism and mental health. Some readers may find this content distressing.

Emotionally unstable personality disorder (previously known as borderline personality disorder) is a pervasive and distressing condition. It is characterised by mood swings, impulsivity, suicidal ideation and self harm. Sufferers have difficulty with relationships, friendships and self image. According to statistics, up to 75 per cent of those diagnosed are women, and it is stated that 70 per cent have suffered some form of abuse, usually in childhood. Many come from difficult family backgrounds, and EUPD can co-exist with other mental illnesses, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, and OCD.

People suffering with EUPD are assumed by mental health services to be very challenging to treat, and personality disorder is often referred to as the “diagnosis of exclusion”. Stereotyping and stigma are rife, and in particular women with the diagnosis are labelled as dramatic, needy, and attention seeking. Specialist services are rarely available and women may find themselves passed from one treatment to the next, which ends up feeding into a vicious cycle of inner chaos, and reinforcing the belief that they are some way untreatable and unwanted.

Unfortunately, for many people, care options can often be dependant on a postcode lottery. Medication, counselling, psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are used, and some NHS trusts may offer art based therapies.

Therapeutic communities provide a supportive environment to explore issues, but they aren’t mainstream and many women are never offered the choice. The referral process is lengthy, and patients are often sent for a short course of CBT or counselling instead. Therapy on the NHS is expensive and hard to come by; in the current economical climate resources are stretched, and mental health in particular has received huge funding losses.

Psychotherapy for EUPD is usually group based. Patients who have never experienced a stable background or a strong family unit can begin to forge lasting bonds with others and reduce social isolation. If a woman is fortunate enough to secure a therapy space it is likely it will be within a mixed sex group. Women will be sitting and sharing their memories, perhaps spoken for the first time, with men.

This approach within EUPD treatment is to encourage integration by assisting patients to discover a mutually respectful male/female exchange in a place of relative safety. The aim is to enable them to transfer that knowledge to their every day experiences, improving confidence and relation to others. No doubt a positive move in the long run; however, shouldn’t a woman be allowed to decide for herself when she is ready to make that step?

Someone who has suffered abuse grows up with many issues. A woman may experience deep conflict and trauma around ownership of her body, her female identity, and her right to say no (or yes). Could a male group member truly understand and empathise? Acknowledge the lasting and devastating effects she is left with?

A possible conflict within mixed groups could be that women wouldn’t feel they are able to honestly express their feelings, because of fear of judgement, being asked personal questions, or just purely that they are frightened of male reaction because of past experience. There is also the issue of personal beliefs – we live in a victim blaming culture, and this may be prevalent in the minds of everyone. Psychotherapy enables people to share and explore their feelings, but if a man held a particularly misogynistic view, is it the right time for a woman to have to hear that opinion? These concerns could be a barrier to female participation and, in turn, her healing. Certainly, during my career in the NHS, I witnessed women leaving services when they were informed that the groups were mixed, or sitting impassively during sessions, not able to express themselves.

I also have personal experience of mixed therapy, having been in a group for 4 years, and it did present a challenge for me. Disclosing information about painful experiences is never easy. People in groups come for all kinds of reasons, but unfortunately many men hold a particularly difficult attitude to women. I and another woman were told we should “act more like proper women”, “not have an opinion on everything”, and “understand what it’s like to be a man – that’s tough”. This particular member and I almost came to a physical altercation on one afternoon, after he decided to trivialise my disclosure of abuse and compare it to his experience. His exact words were: “For God’s sake, it was years ago, and everyone gets crap anyway – my dad always sent me boxing when I didn’t want to go.” When I and several other people told him he was out of order he became aggressive and stood up to shout in my face.

In a separate incident I was threatened by another male member, again for simply voicing an opinion. He screamed at me to: “Shut your mouth or I swear I’ll smash that table straight over your head.” Men would express their views on women using derogatory terms such as ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’. Whether it’s directed at people in the room or not, it still isn’t pleasant to listen to. When the deep rooted prejudices overspill, it’s the women who bear the brunt.

Of course, not all men are abusers, and not all men are violent. Psychotherapy groups have strong boundaries and strict codes of conduct in place for the safety of everyone involved. But a treatment group is meant to be just that – treatment. Facing personal demons is difficult enough, particularly for those who have never had a voice, have never spoken out before. Having men in a group where the majority of female members have experienced prolonged suffering at male hands may do more harm than good. Treatment for EUPD isn’t straightforward, as sufferers have complex issues. However, women should always have the right to choose.

A. Lewis is a campaigner for changing attitudes around mental health. 

For more information and support on EUPD, visit Mind or Emergence.

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#GenderWeek: The problem is capitalist-patriarchy socialising boys to be aggressive

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The most common criticism of radical feminist theory is that we are gender essentialist because we believe that women’s oppression, as a class, is because of the biological realities of our bodies. Radical feminists define sex as the physical body, whilst gender is a social construct. It is not a function of our biology. It is the consequence of being labelled male/female at birth and assigned to the oppressor/sex class. The minute genetic differences are not reflected in the reality of women’s lived experiences. Gender is the coercive process of socialisation built upon a material reality that constructs women as a subordinate class to men. As such, radical feminists do not want to queer gender or create a spectrum of gendered identities; we want to end the hierarchical power structure that privileges men as a class at the expense of women’s health and safety.

This assumption is based on a misunderstanding of radical feminist theory, that starts from the definition of “radical” itself, which refers to the root or the origin: that is to say, the oppression of women by men (The Patriarchy). It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies (sex) and seeks the liberation of women through the eradication of social structures, cultural practises and laws that are predicated on women’s inferiority to men (gender).

Radical feminism challenges all relationships of power that exist within the Patriarchy including capitalism, imperialism, racism, classism, homophobia and even the fashion-beauty complex because they are harmful to everyone: female, male, intersex and trans*. As with all social justice movements, radical feminism is far from perfect. No movement can exist within a White Supremacist culture without (re)creating racist, homophobic, disablist, colonialist and classist power structures. What makes radical feminism different is its focus on women as a class.

Radical feminists do not believe there are any innate gender differences, or in the existence of male/female brains. Women are not naturally more nurturing than men and men are not better at maths and reading maps. Men are only “men” insofar as male humans are socialised into specific characteristics that we label male, such as intelligence, aggression, and violence and woman are “woman” because we are socialised into believing that we are more nurturing, empathetic, and caring than men.

Women’s oppression as a class is built on two interconnected constructs: reproductive capability and sexual capability. In the words of Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society. Without the commodification of women’s labour there would be no unequal hierarchy of power between men and women, fundamental to the creation and continuation of the Capitalist-Patriarchy, and, therefore, no need for gender as a social construct.

Radical feminism recognises the multiple oppressions of individual women, whilst recognising the oppression of women as a class in the Marxist sense of the term. Rape does not require every woman to be raped to function as a punishment and a deterrent from speaking out. The threat therein is enough. Equally, the infertility of an individual woman does not negate the fact that her oppression is based on the assumed potential (and desire) for pregnancy, which is best seen in discussions of women’s employment and men’s refusal to hire women during “child-bearing” years due to the potential for pregnancy, which is used as a way of controlling women’s labour: keeping women in low-paying jobs and maintaining the glass ceiling. Constructing women as “nurturers” maintains the systemic oppression of women and retains wealth and power within men as a class.

Even something as basic as a company dress code is gendered to mark women as other. Women working in the service industry are frequently required to wear clothing and high heels that accentuate external markers of sex. Sexual harassment is endemic, particularly in the workplace, yet women are punished if they do not attend work in clothing that is considered “acceptable” for the male gaze. The use of women’s bodies to sell products further institutionalises the construction of women as object.

There is a shared girlhood in a culture that privileges boys, coercively constructs women’s sexuality and punishes girls who try to live outside gendered norms. The research of Dale Spender, and even Margaret Atwood, dating back to the 1980s has made it very clear that young girls are socialised to be quiet, meek and unconfident. Boys, on the other hand, are socialised to believe that everything they say and do is important: by parents and teachers, by a culture which believes that no young boy would ever want to watch a film or read a book about girls or written by a woman. Shared girlhood is differentiated by race, class, faith and sexuality, but, fundamentally, all girls are raised in a culture which actively harms them.

Radical feminists are accused of gender essentialism because we recognise the oppressive structures of our world and seek to dismantle them. We acknowledge the sex of the vast majority of perpetrators of violence. We do so by creating women-only spaces so that women can share stories in the knowledge that other women will listen. This is in direct contrast to every other public and private space that women and young girls live in. Sometimes these spaces are trans-inclusive, like A Room of our Own the blogging network I created for feminists and womanists. Sometimes these spaces will need to be for women who are FAAB only or trans* women only, just as it is absolutely necessary to have black-women only spaces and lesbian women-only spaces.

There is a need for all of these spaces because socialisation is a very powerful tool. Being raised male in a patriarchal white supremacist culture is very different to being raised female with the accompanying sexual harassment, trauma and oppression. The exclusion of trans* women from some spaces is to support traumatised women who can be triggered by being in the same space as someone who was socialised male growing up. This does not mean that an individual trans* woman is a danger, but rather a recognition that gendered violence exists and that trauma is complicated.

It is our direct challenge to hegemonic masculinity and control of the world’s resources (including human) that makes radical feminism a target of accusations like gender essentialism. We recognise the importance in biological sex because of the way girls and boys are socialised to believe that boys are better than girls. As long as we live in a capitalist-patriarchy where boys are socialised to believe that aggression and anger are acceptable behaviour, women and girls will need the right to access women-only spaces however they define them.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/Womanist network. She can be found on twitter as @LeStewpot and @Roomofourown

Photo: Pixabay

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#GenderWeek: Truce! When radical feminists and trans feminists empathise

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We wanted to explore the ground between the polarised, entrenched positions in the so-called “TERF-war”. Radical feminists on one pole, trans-inclusionary feminists and trans activists on the other. The disputed territory being women-only space, language and the ever changing legal framework surrounding gender.

Entrenchment leads to stalemate. Stalemate is no friend to progress.

We want to know how feminism can progress when it comes to these gender debates. Can we stop hurling abuse and start listening? What would happen if people in these polarised positions began to empathise with each other? Is it possible to find common ground and start building towards a shared vision of the future? Fighting common enemies?

We asked Finn Mackay, a radical feminist, and Ruth Pearce, a trans feminist, if they would help us explore the place between the poles, this no (wo)man’s land, with some radical empathy.

Finn Mackay:

The disagreements between some feminist theory and the growing movement for trans rights and recognition perhaps began most publically with Janice Raymond’s 1980 book The Transexual Empire and Sandy Stone’s famous riposte in The Empire Strikes Back. The main two critiques were that Raymond denied a history for trans people and stated that trans people are not ‘real’ men or women.

It’s not difficult to see why the latter would cause offence, and indeed Raymond does suggest this in her book. Mainly she is concerned with critiquing the medical industry and its pathologisation of gender in the clinics of the 1970s, which she sees as charm schools for gender stereotyping.

Raymond does not deny a transgender history; she is not naïve to the fact that gender rules are different around the world and are often flouted. However, Raymond argues that it wasn’t until legal and medical advancements that it became possible to talk about the identity of transexual.

This highlights an important distinction between gender and sex. I am not an essentialist; I believe gender is a social construct – by which I mean masculinity, femininity, camp, butch, high femme or androgynous, for example. Sex describes the biological features of our bodies, such as genitalia, reproductive capacity and hormones. In patriarchy of course, sex equals rank and gender roles are used, promoted and policed so that sex rank is obvious and unequivocal.

I don’t believe gender is natural, fixed or innate, but made and not born. It is made by all the stereotypes around us about how men and women are supposed to look, act and dress. Everyone works hard at their gender, it does not come naturally. Men and women work to live up to narrow and impossible gender ideals; they diet and spend vast amounts on cosmetics and plastic surgery. In that way we are all performing gender, and it is difficult to say if anyone is a ‘real’ man or woman.

Therefore, I don’t believe that trans people are any less ‘real’ men and women than anyone else, and I don’t believe trans women are ‘men’. I respect self-definition and use the pronouns individuals identify as; I would never refer to trans women as ‘he’ or to trans men as ‘she’. I agree that women-only spaces should be open to all women, including trans women. However, I also respect the right of all oppressed groups to self-organise. For example, recently a mixed feminist conference in Manchester held a workshop on girlhood sexual abuse which was open only to women assigned female at birth. I do not think it was right that the conference was attacked as a result.

I do not agree with the term ‘cis’ and do not use it. It suggests that all non-trans people are gender normative Stepford wives, which is far from the case. I do not get read as a woman in many daily interactions and experience harassment and violence as a result. I do not have the privilege of not being questioned about my sex and gender in the street, in passport control or in interactions with health services. I also do not believe that being categorised as female in a patriarchal world can ever be seen as a privilege, and the facts of sexual violence, marginalisation and poverty bear that out.

 

Ruth Pearce:

In you, I see the girls who spat in my face as I walked home from school.
In me, you see every man who has ever treated you like a lesser being.
In you, I see the boys who always wanted to pick a fight.
In me, you see someone who just won’t listen.
In you, I see my father, a man I’ve always considered to be wise and thoughtful, telling me that I’ll be outed by the press and kicked out of university for using the women’s toilets.
In me, you see a forceful male penetration of women’s spaces.
In you, I see a thousand tabloid headlines screaming “tranny”.
In me, you see a blind adherence to the oppressive system of binary gender.
In you, I see the doctor who tells me what I can and can’t do with my body.
In me, you see the stooge of a patriarchal medical system.
In you, I see how friends who have been beaten or raped were told that they brought it on themselves.
In me, you see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.
In you, I see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.

My truth and your truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed.  Why is it that we disagree so much over the meaning of my body, over the meaning of your lived experience, over the existence of feminist events that exclude trans women?

I would tell you that my subconscious sex, the mental matrix that somehow marks the flesh I expect to see and feel when I behold myself, maps snugly onto the body I have inhabited since undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction. I would tell you that for the last six years I have been happy and at ease with myself in a way I could never have been before.

I would tell you that yes, I agree that gender is a social construct which ascribes hegemonic power to the masculine. I would tell you that I, like you, am forced to negotiate a society where we cannot simply reject gender because we are constantly gendered by others. The body I inhabit, the things I enjoy, the manner in which I communicate, the clothes I prefer to wear all fit better into the artificial category of “woman” than the artificial category of “man”.

I would tell you that I too am subject to sexism and misogyny in many of their vile forms. My transness does not spare me. I would further tell you that I have experienced worse for being trans than for being a woman, although such unpleasant experiences have been limited by the privileges that come with my class background and the colour of my skin.

I would tell you that I believe in the importance of women’s spaces. I would argue that no group of women should be rejected from such a space.

I would tell you that I am a woman because I identify as a woman and because I move through the world as a woman. That I reject outdated ideals of “appropriate” female behaviour. That I rage against sexism and misogyny, and fight alongside my sisters for equality, for liberation, for choice.

I would tell you that this is my truth, and that there is no universal trans truth. I would ask you to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of trans truths.

And you would tell me your truth. You would tell me of the pain that comes from growing up as a girl and then living as a woman in a patriarchal world. You would tell me that I can never know what this is like, that I will always be male, that my chromosomes and life experience cannot be erased. You would tell me that you have a right to organise without me. That I should just leave you alone.

And our argument could roll on for a long time. I might draw upon the wisdom of black feminist thinkers to argue that there is no universal experience of womanhood. And you might respond that I, nevertheless, will always have with me the privileges that come with being raised as a boy. And I would say yes, I accept that, but seek to acknowledge and check this in the same way I seek to acknowledge and check my other privileges, and moreover this intersects complexly with the oppression I experienced growing up as a trans girl, learning to hate myself and unable to access hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Where does this leave us?

At the end of the day, we have to draw a line in the sand. So you read and write and share your critiques of my existence, and attend your conferences from which I am explicitly excluded. But I necessarily object to writings and events that actively oppose or undermine my liberation: articles that turn me into a joke or demean my struggle for survival, activists who out vulnerable children, keynote speakers who say that we are all rapists and call for the abolition of gender clinics.

I am left with no choice but to actively oppose the public manifestation of opinions that will do harm to myself, to my friends, to my trans sisters, to my trans brothers, to my queer and/or non-gender-specific trans siblings.

I oppose you not because I hate you, and certainly not because I oppose feminism. I oppose you because you would cause me harm.

And in doing so, you believe that I cause you harm.

And so the dance goes on.

Ruth’s piece is adapted from her 2012 blog post, which you can read here.

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‪#‎GenderWeek: Race shatters the idea of a shared female experience

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Safe spaces exist in political circles for safety and security away from oppressive attitudes – sexism and racism, to name a few. When structural inequalities permeate daily life, it is a relief to spend time with others who get it. Some safe spaces invite allies to join; others come with conditions of exclusion. Those exclusions are applied to those who don’t have similar lived experiences, who are more than likely to engage in oppressive behaviour. Women-only spaces are an example of this, gay clubs another, but each holds its own flaws.

Exclusive spaces are not limited to the politics of liberation. Work places, school places and social spaces show time and time again how exclusionary spaces are informally created. Those who are similar to one another tend to gravitate towards each other. Exclusive spaces tend to expel difference, and they tend to lack a power analysis. Exclusive spaces are not always safe. They can reinforce power and collectively punch down on a regular basis. They can be echo chambers that resist challenge and the possibility of growing. Trans exclusionary feminist spaces are the latter.

Women-only spaces have always been a contentious issue in feminism. There’s a strand of politics in feminism’s broad church – often called trans exclusionary radical feminism – that argues that trans women are not women, thereby excluding them from women-only spaces. Further still, some of these feminists compare trans women to white cultural appropriators. Rachel Ivey, of US based radical feminist and environmentalist group Deep Green Resistance, compares trans women to cultural appropriators in a 40 minute radical feminist manifesto on Youtube.

But writer Savannah G deconstructs this argument in a great post on Autostraddle, saying:

…these things are not analogous because cultural specificities have to do with a group of people forming, over time, a local context and traditions. There is innumerable evidence that undermining such cultural specificities (through colonization, globalization, etc.) leads to mass-scale human suffering, and is in fact virtually always a component of genocide.

Neither woman-typical nor man-typical clothing resides in the same realm as such local cultural specificities. A person with a penis wearing woman-typical clothing does nothing to undermine “woman culture” nor vice-versa. For example, when women began wearing trousers more commonly in the latter half of the 20th century, they did not do so as a result of male cultural coercion or colonization. Instead they did it out of a component of liberation: it’s called, given your local context, wear whatever the hell you want.

Racism is too often misused as a hypothetical metaphor to illustrate the injustice of some other issue rather than being an injustice in itself. In liberation movements there is a trend of comparing inevitably overwhelmingly white movements to fights against racism. Indeed, comparisons to racism often imply that the complexities of racism are widely understood – they are not – and that the struggle has ended, when it most definitely hasn’t.

Cis black women and trans women of all races have a lot in common when it comes to feminism. We complicate things. We disrupt women-only spaces. When we call attention to the power disparities between women, we shatter the idea of a shared female experience. When we have access to women-only spaces, we draw attention to the pre-existing hierarchies in place that haven’t disappeared just because of a sense of ‘sisterhood’. When we challenge racism and transphobia in feminist spaces we’re both often described as the same things: self-interested, divisive, bullies. By raising the problems of racism and transphobia in the feminist movement, we become the problem.

Black feminist contributions to political movements are often written out of history by our white counterparts. So are trans women’s. When Nancy Fraser wrote in the Guardian that feminism what becoming too capitalist, she excluded the anti-capitalist works from women of colour such as Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Himani Bannerji, Avtar Brah, Selma James, Maria Mies, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Silvia Federici, and Dorothy Roberts. Stonewall, now a charity that explicitly only advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, was initially a riot in which cis and trans LGB people fought side by side.

bell hooks called this phenomenon “white people fatigue syndrome“. This is the problem with these limited politics – there is a collective ‘forgetting’ that is inherently exclusionary. As a former English Literature student, there are more than a few comparisons I can draw with the exclusion of white women from the literary canon. They were forgotten. We are forgotten.

The transphobia displayed in some radical spaces is as conventional and conservative as the transphobia displayed in wider society. “There’s this widespread view of being transgender as a deviance or a perversion,” Gigi, aged 17 explains to me. “For example, the reactions trans people face when we want to use public toilets.” This culture of suspicion is repeated in the exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces. There is no difference. Women-only spaces aren’t safe if they impose the same hierarchical structures we aim to resist.

Both cis black and transgender women share an extra layer of having to fight for our humanity. Our existence is intersectional. We straddle awkward gaps. When it comes to the battle grounds of equal pay, gender quotas, reproductive rights, neither of us are the acceptable face of what it means to be a woman. We raise these points in feminism and we disrupt women only spaces.

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a black feminist writer and campaigner based in London. She is Contributing Editor at Feminist Times, blogs at http://renieddolodge.co.uk/ and tweets @renireni.

Photo: Google Images Creative Commons

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#GenderWeek: What about men? The end of women-only charities?

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What about men?

As my Irish mother always says: “Don’t let the b******ds grind you down!”

I was approached to write this article because we (Survive) advertised for a post in our local A&E for an IDVA (Independent domestic Violence Advisor), and in our advertisement we stated the post holder must be female using section 7(2) of the Sexual Discrimination Act. As our work primarily supports women and our women are primarily abused by men, we have found it appropriate for them to be supported by a worker who legally identifies as a woman. As an example of how this works on an everyday level, if you visit your GP it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a female practitioner to make you feel more comfortable when dealing with personal subjects such as fertility and sexual health; discussing a traumatic relationship is no different. Makes sense right?

So I find it hard to understand why, when someone makes a statement or publishes an article about violence against women, particularly domestic violence, the reactionary comments are full of people (men and women) asking: “what about the men?” “it’s not just women you know!” Or “just as many men as women experience DVA.” And my favourite: “why should women get all the help and support? Probably more men suffering in silence than women anyway!”

How do they know this? Where is their evidence? And why do they feel the need to attack women and those who help them? Why should it be that if I want to support women and their children I must be against male victims? This is simply not the case; I, like most in the DVA sector, recognise that there are also male victims. It feels to me that whenever women state something is for women only, people feel threatened. It is accepted (although odd in our day and age), that there are golf clubs and Mason meetings which are for men only, but the other way round makes people feel uneasy?

What I suggest to people is to go out there and set up support where you see gaps. That is what the first female voluntary domestic violence support workers did during the 1970s; this work was born out of the feminist movement, by women for women and their children.

The problem with the question “what about men?” is it creates is a world where funders, government and local councils start to demand that the services they fund support all, and support them thoroughly; that services spread and stretch their resources (often using the same if not lower funds), in order to evidence that they will and are supporting both male and female victims.

I work in one of the last organisations which specialises in supporting women and children only and at a grassroots level. I believe we are a dying breed and that as funding requirements change we will have to look at amending the fundamental principles of our constitutions and mission statements in order to keep up with funders’ expectations. So we risk losing our identity as a female only org in order to literally survive.

This change and expansion is clear to see in our new projects and ventures; we now support men off site if they come into our local A&E, and men can now attend our parenting sessions which are also off site. We also have male mentors to support the children living in our refuges and accessing our services, however our direct and main support within refuge, group work and outreach is still for women only.

The possible harm I can see coming from a complete change to support provision, and losing our founding identify, would be the message it would send out; that domestic violence and abuse is not a gender issue, which from my experience and research it still very much is.

  • On average two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner: this constitutes around one-third of all female homicide victims
  • 42% of all female homicide victims, compared with 4% of male homicide victims, were killed by current or former partners in England and Wales in the year 2000/01. This equates to 102 women, an average of 2 women each week
  • In a study by Shelter, 40% of all homeless women stated that domestic violence was a contributor to their homelessness. Domestic violence was found to be “the single most quoted reason for becoming homeless”

I can already imagine the comments this article will provoke: Men are too ashamed to report, men are less likely to report, and so on… and while I agree there is some truth in these refutes, you can’t argue with these statistics – they are facts.

Out of the 367 male victims of homicide in 2011/12, 17 were killed by partners or ex partners and 124 by strangers. While these 17 deaths may have been prevented by better support from services, the figure for women in that same year is much higher: out of the 127 female homicide victims, 88 were killed by their partner/ex-partner and 25 by a stranger.

I do support the engagement of men in the DVA sector; it has been of great benefit for our younger service users to be supported by male mentors, for them to have a positive experience of non-violent/abusive men. I willingly accept that we will be exploring this area further and looking at the role of male workers supporting DVA victims, but we need to address this without losing our identity as a female led organisation. There are not many working environments where the CE, the management team and administration, as well as front line workers, are all female and this is a fact I am proud of.

Ruth Wood is IDVA & Outreach Services Manager at Survive: Working towards freedom from domestic abuse. Follow her personal Twitter @WoodWoodruthie

If you have been affected by domestic violence, call the national domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247. Calls are free and the line is open 24/7.

Support services for men

Photo: Wikimedia

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Men, know your place!

Mumsnet is sexist. At least, that seems to be the rationale behind the founding of Mumsanddadsnet, set up by Duncan Fisher and Jeszemma Garratt because parenting sites “exclude” dads – which conveniently ignores the fact that parenting sites already have male members and have done since the beginning.

The main problem with the idea that Mumsnet needs more men or that men are deliberately being excluded from parenting websites is that it fails to acknowledge the gendered reality of childrearing in the UK. It is women who do the majority of childcare, childrearing and family organisation, regardless of whether or not they work outside the home (a euphemistic phrase which implies that childcare and housework aren’t really work).

But marriage and childrearing is more than just a “second shift” for women. As Susan Maushart argues in her seminal text Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women, “becoming a wife will erode your mental health, reduce your leisure, decimate your libido, and increase the odds that you will be physically assaulted or murdered in your own home.”

Wifework isn’t just doing a couple of extra loads of laundry a week. Being a wife means taking on responsibility for the emotional and physical care of the needs of the husband at the expense of one’s own emotional and physical health.

Feminists have long since recognised the fact that marriage has a detrimental effect on women’s health and emotional wellbeing. Yet we are replicating the exact same structures within the feminist movement without recognising it. Feminism has stopped being about the liberation of women and has instead become about not alienating men.

We can’t simply talk about rape culture and strategize how to destroy it without every single statement requiring the caveat “we don’t mean all men”. We can’t hold conferences without including men. We can’t even hold Reclaim the Night marches without men demanding to be included, irrespective of the fact that the men who demand the right to attend rarely show up. Or that the inclusion of men means that many women don’t feel safe attending.

Excluding women from Reclaim the Night marches in order to include men is an anti-feminist position, but it is one that women are pushed into making because excluding men is somehow seen as unkind. Frankly, in the unkind sweepstakes, the reality of male sexual, physical and emotional violence against women and children is slightly worse than not being invited on a march. Liberating women from these structures should be the goal of feminism, not worrying about whether or nor men’s feelings are hurt.

We cannot fight for liberation if our physical and emotional time is spent placating men or worrying about their feelings. Our emotional health and our time are very precious resources that need to be allocated to other women. We need to allocate it to ourselves.

This is why I worry about feminist organisations like The Everyday Sexism Project praising men with their #everydayallies hashtag on twitter. We are praising them for behaving like human beings; not for doing anything to support women’s liberation or to end male violence, but for acting like human beings. This should be a basic requirement of humanity, not a cause for celebration.

This isn’t to say that men should not take responsibility for ending male violence against women and girls but that they need to take on this work themselves. More men need to become involved in the White Ribbon Campaign and supporting women’s liberation, rather than demanding to be included in work women are doing (and then trying to take credit just for rocking up).

Critiquing The Everyday Sexism Project for taking out a few hours from the brilliant work they do for women to thank men may seem churlish, but it is part of larger pattern of women caring for men’s feelings above their own. This is just another way women have to expand energy caring for men more than themselves.

Demanding inclusion of men, within the feminist movement and on parenting websites, also ignores the importance of women-only spaces. There is a tremendous amount of research, from Dale Spender to Margaret Atwood, into how men dominate public spaces and public communication. More recently, Ruth Lewis and Elizabeth Sharp’s research into the importance of women-only spaces, conducted following the North East Feminist Gathering in 2012 and published on Feminist Times, has documented numerous positive outcomes for women including a surge in confidence and reflexivity, as well as a safe place for debate and to challenge stereotypes.

The incursion of men into women-only spaces has a detrimental effect on women’s abilities to communicate and engage with one another safely. This should be something of concern to feminists rather than the feelings of men who feel excluded. Women-only spaces are important for women’s cognitive and emotional safety. We need to make sure that every single woman has this space.

This is why parenting sites like Mumsnet and Netmums are so popular. They are sites by women, for women, talking about every single issue that women are concerned about – from caring for a child to radical feminist politics to football. Men who demand to be part of these spaces aren’t engaging with the reality of women’s lives. They are demanding the right to speak over and for women. They are demanding the right to be the most important concern in the room. This is inherently anti-feminist.

Men who understand feminism don’t need our praise. They just get on with the work needed to undo the patriarchy. Feminism needs more men like this. We also need to reflect more on why feminism is starting to replicate the harmful gendered stereotypes on which the institution of marriage is based when it is feminism that recognised the harm in the first place.

Why has feminism become so concerned with ensuring men aren’t excluded rather than focusing on women’s exclusion from public life? Why are the feelings of a few men upset because a parenting website doesn’t include the word “dad”, when the reality is that women do the vast majority of parenting at the expense of our health?

Putting the needs of men, as a class, to feel included above the safety of women is an anti-feminist position. Feminism should be by women, for women, because women are important too – and our feelings of exclusion are grounded in reality.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/Womanist network. She can be found on twitter as @LeStewpot and @Roomofourown

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Profile: Women’s Independent Alcohol Support

Drunken women are laughed at, seen as easy targets for rape, and ‘asking for’ abuse. Women with children who over-drink are in danger of losing them, and ‘being an alcoholic’ is seen as a source of shame and apology for life.

Few women (less than 3%) with alcohol problems go for treatment, and the treatment in any case is likely to focus not on why they need to over-drink, but on stopping it at once and joining groups like AA, which see the problem as an individual weakness to be dealt with by a programme of meetings and lifestyle, developed by and for men, and still found to be uncomfortable spaces by many women.

What is lacking is an understanding of the links between the lives of ordinary women and substance use, including alcohol. Why do some women need to over-drink? Alcohol research is looking increasingly at the way that gender is relevant to how people use alcohol.

Women may drink for different reasons and in different ways, and they may need a different kind of help than is often available. There is strong evidence as to the role of stress, domestic abuse, depression, low self worth, and social isolation. There is also strong evidence of the need for women only services.

Women’s Independent Alcohol Support (WIAS) is a registered charity, run by women who have recovered from alcohol issues and their friends, and which addresses these issues. We are a small, highly motivated group of women, with a feminist perspective, and our social model of recovery is based in personal experience and academic research.

We aim to offer a friendly and supportive ear, and to put women in touch with other organisations who can offer help with particular issues such as domestic abuse and addiction to prescribed drugs. On February 17th 2014 WIAS organised, with Bristol Women’s Voice, the first and ground-breaking ‘women and alcohol’ conference in Bristol – click here to see the programme and presentations.

I founded WIAS, having recovered from alcoholism in 1988 and have since attempted in academic and practical work to influence how women’s alcohol use is understood and how it is ‘treated’. I am often asked: “what’s different about it for women?”

Traditionally, alcohol problems were seen to be something that happened to men. It was men who were seen drinking in pubs and clubs and men who were sometimes seen drunk. A man spending his wages on drink might leave a family without food for a week and often did. It was men who began the famous Alcoholics Anonymous movement, at a time when alcohol problems were understood to be a male problem. It provided a space where they could share their troubles and try to help each other to stop misusing alcohol.

At that time, women’s drinking often consisted of a couple of glasses of sherry at Christmas and half a pint of shandy in summer. Even when drinking wine and other things socially became more acceptable for them, drunkenness was still perceived as shaming, and showing a lack of self-respect as well as lack of proper concern for one’s family.

Women have been reluctant to ‘come out’ about their alcohol use for these reasons and have often preferred to use tranquillisers (‘mother’s little helpers’) and other remedies to help them when their lives were difficult or they were unhappy or even domestically abused. They have often become depressed and suicidal.

Women have emphasised how much they need to have women-only space to talk about how they came to have alcohol problems, what sometimes helps and what doesn’t, and an opportunity just for non-judgmental friendship and support. Unfortunately it can be difficult and expensive to provide this in conventional treatment settings.

WIAS is now a registered charity and plans to run small groups for women, eventually building an interactive website where they can discuss their issues, and holding up to date information about what kind of help is available for women should they be seeking it. WIAS is seeking funding to do these things and to run a helpline, so if you can help in any way please email us. Otherwise, watch our website at www.wiaswomen.org.uk to learn about progress.

WIAS also acts in a consultative capacity and is able to undertake commissions.

You can email WIAS at contact@wiaswomen.org.uk

References:

Staddon, P. (2014) ‘Turning the Tide’, Groupwork, 24 (1)

Wolstenholme A, Drummond C, Deluca P, et al (2012) Chapter 9: ‘Alcohol interventions and treatments in Europe’ in AMPHORA (2012) Alcohol Policy In Europe: Evidence from AMPHORA

Photo: Jesse Millan

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Reflections on Greenham, 11 December 1983

Thirty years ago today, on 11 December 1983, 50,000 women gathered at Greenham Common to encircle the military base, where cruise missiles had arrived three weeks earlier.

The women held mirrors, symbolically reflecting the military’s image back at itself. The women later cut and pulled down sections of the surrounding fence. Hundreds of arrests were made.

This mass demonstration was known as ‘Reflect The Base’. Today, five Greenham women reflect on their experiences.

Dr Rebecca Johnson, Greenham Women’s Peace Camp 1982-1987 and Executive Director of Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy:
I had been living at the Women’s Peace Camp for 16 months and helped organise ‘Reflect the base’ on 11 December 1983. This was bigger, louder and angrier than our first big demo ‘Embrace the base’ on 12 December 1982, when 35,000 women had encircled the 9 mile nuclear base for the first time.

After two years of determined nonviolent actions, in which thousands of women had been arrested and imprisoned for “breach of the peace”, the Women’s Peace Camp faced our toughest time as the USAF flew their new generation of nuclear-armed cruise missiles over our heads in November 1983, and the Tory government gave the USAF legal powers to shoot us if we got in the way.

A month later 50,000 women came to Greenham to demonstrate our refusal to give up. Surrounding the base, we faced thousands of armed soldiers and police as we held up our mirrors so that they could see their own faces, guarding these nuclear weapons of mass suffering. Though some decorated the perimeter fence as we’d done in 1982, thousands of women pulled miles of fence down with our bare hands and woolly gloves, singing and chanting as only women can!

A month earlier I had been one of 13 Greenham plaintiffs in the US Centre for Constitutional Rights’s injunction to halt the deployment of cruise missiles in Europe. I had spoken in the New York Court with Rudi Giuliani, then attorney for President Reagan. We lost that case (to no-one’s surprise), so I went back to build a new bender (vigilantes destroyed my tent while I was away). So there I was, singing and reflecting the base with thousands of wonderful sisters. Like many others, I had a couple of fingers broken by soldiers lashing at our hands with metal bars.  But it was worth it.

I carried on living and campaigning at Greenham until 1987. Four years after we Reflected the Base on that bitter cold December day, Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan signed the historic INF Treaty in Moscow (8 December 1987), which banned and eliminated that whole generation of cruise, Pershing and SS20 missiles from Europe.

David Cameron’s mother was a Newbury magistrate, imprisoning Greenham women for our nonviolent actions to create peace and disarmament. And now Exmoor ponies graze by the empty silos on the Green and Common land. Newbury residents now stroll with pushchairs and dogs where we used to be beaten up and arrested. Do they look at the silos and pause a moment to think of the thousands of peace women who got rid of cruise missiles and restored Greenham for local people to enjoy?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reverend Zamantha Walker, Feminist Times member:
I was present at the Reflect the Base on 11th Dec 1983 when 50,000 women surrounded the base with mirrors. I went with other women from the University of Kent, where I was in my last year. We also took instruments to bring the walls down (somewhat biblical with echoes of the walls of Jericho being walked around brought down by noise and light!).

There was a large police presence with quite a few mounted police, some of whom I saw dragging some women away from the fence and being quite brutal about it. It was both a challenging and a hopeful occasion when solidarity of purpose and the number present strengthened our resolve.

The media were polarised in either (the majority) depicting only those women who appeared radically ‘different’ and presenting us as ‘the loony left’, or (a small minority) as sympathetic to the aims although cautious about how we were demonstrating. It was an incredible occasion and I recognised it as momentous at the time.

When I returned to camp it was interesting that in conversation with some of the British and Canadian soldiers in the base – the Americans weren’t allowed to have even eye contact with us! – they were often surprisingly sympathetic to our cause. As they said “cruise missiles are not a weapon of defence”

GreenhamEmbraceNetta Cartwright, Feminist Times Founder Member:
I went a few times to Greenham Common. The first time we had a couple of coaches full of women from Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent – we were mostly women from Women’s Liberation and Women’s Aid groups. We went to Embrace the Base.

When we arrived we were overwhelmed by the crowds of women jostling, singing and linking arms around the whole of the perimeter fence. We couldn’t see all of the women of course but when we held hands I started a hands squeeze with the woman next to me on the left and said pass it on and waited. After a while I got the squeeze back from the woman the other side. I like to think it had gone around the whole base.

We decorated and wove the wire with poems, ribbons, photos, flowers, and embroidery. It was a wonderful day full of songs and laughter and we carried on all the way home on the buses.

I went on another day later with a small group of women armed with wire cutters. When we arrived there were other groups too with the same intention. We cut the wire and many of the women went into the base and got arrested. I ended up holding on to a woman’s baby and hiding in the trees when dogs were set on us. I’m still the proud possessor of a piece of green wire from the fence, much to the interest of my granddaughter who saw a big display of  women at Greenham Common in the RAF museum at Cosford, Staffordshire.

Helen Scadding, Feminist Times member:
As we held hands around the perimeter of the fence there was this sense of amazement that there were enough of us to do this strange, and yet comforting thing. Holding hands gave a sense of purpose, of ritual, of not being alone, and of defiance.

The site is quite rural and the fence was quite inaccessible in parts, where there were dips and natural changes in the landscape around the fence and it was impossible to see that far, as it bent round and we had to watch our feet. So there were times when it felt like a dance and other times where we felt anxious that the chain would break, especially where the fence cornered in different places.

We all faced in towards the fence and tied or pinned photographs and letters and objects to the fence. Women tied on tampax, and beautifully framed photographs of their families and friends, children’s drawings, natural objects, and collages. We sang and whistled and chanted.

I remember thinking what a long time it would take to untie and remove all the lovely objects, but perhaps they just blow torched it all off with a machine.

Angie Donoghue, Feminist Times member:
I’ve just dug out my Greenham Common Songbook (35 songs – new words to old tunes). The most memorable is:

You Can’t Kill The Spirit
Old and strong
She goes on and on and on
You can’t kill the spirit
She is like a mountain.

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Second image: Greenham women on nuclear silo, dawn 1 January 1983. Photo credit Raissa Page, 1983, courtesy of Rebecca Johnson

Third image: Poster for Embrace the Base 1982 Greenham Common women’s peace camp, courtesy of Rebecca Johnson

Thank you to all Feminist Times members who got in touch about this piece. For more on the legacy of Greenham Common, see Guardian Films’ Your Greenham series, produced with Beeban Kidron.

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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Inspire: ‘Let’s Start a Pussy Riot!’

I sat down with some of the team behind Let’s Start A Pussy Riot, published by Rough Trade earlier this year. The book is a collection of artistic responses to the phenomenal Pussy Riot, created to raise money and awareness for the women facing imprisonment.

Before I was involved with Feminist Times, Verity, Jade, Beth and Emy – the women behind this project – asked my choir Gaggle to contribute to the book, alongside some incredible artists including: Judy Chicago, Antony Hegarty, Bianca Casady, Sarah Lucas, Kim Gordon, Lucky Dragons, Billy Childish, Jeffrey Lewis. They launched the book at Yoko Ono’s Meltdown, with members of Pussy Riot secretly flown in to speak at the Southbank Centre.

When I joined Feminist Times I wanted to come back to them to discuss the passions that inspired the project, the challenges they faced and how others can follow their lead. This is the first in a series where we interview groups of women who have come together and realised ambitious feminist projects. All in their own words.

If you would like us to interview your group let us know on editorial@feministtimes.com

Feminist Times: HOW DID YOU GUYS COME TOGETHER?

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Emy (25): In Spring 2012, shortly after the women [Pussy Riot] got arrested, I approached three London-based feminist collectives to organise a fundraiser. Within 1½ weeks we organised a mini festival in London, including performances by 11 bands.

 

 

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Jade (22): It was in March last year: Storm in a Tea Cup, Girls get Busy and Not So Popular. Bands, performance art…. we took over a pub…

 

 

 

Verity Flecknell

 

Verity (30): We ran a balaclava workshop, Viv Albertine from The Slits was headlining.

 

 

 

 

 

Jade: Who was the performance artists who used fish? We had to rejig Viv, our headliner, because the artist before rubbed herself all over in fish and the stage was covered.

Verity: I had to go round with air freshener for ages before we could put Viv on.

Jade: Me and Emy were involved in Not So Popular, which we started as more of a socialist group where we want people to get involved in the arts who might not normally get a chance too, especially due to these cuts.

Verity: SIATC has been around since 2009; we helped organise Ladyfest 2010 and have taken part in WOW. We all had different skills, networks and contacts. Bringing us all together gave quite a wide range of different scenes – that’s why it worked so well.

Jade: We wanted to continue raising money. I think we raised £400 and we wanted a more regular way of giving money.

Emy: We started Let’s Start A Pussy Riot as a call to action, to respond creatively to the case and its surrounding topics around the time when the trials began. We wanted to engage the public in a creative dialogue, away from the mere consuming of news.

Jade: So every month we were going to do a different feminist zine. We started contacting artists and suddenly we had people like Judy Chicago, Billy Childish and Yoko Ono so we thought maybe we should just make a book. Seemed quite logical. We approached Rough Trade who loved the idea and had a lot of faith in us and gave us a lot of freedom to make the book we wanted to. And yeah, suddenly we had a book! I say suddenly but it was actually a lot of work. Don’t really know how we got here.

Verity: We’d never published a book before and we all come from a grassroots perspective so there were a lot of challenges. But people were very receptive because no one else was getting up and doing stuff like this in London.

Jade: It gave people a chance to respond in their own way. It’s not prescriptively Pussy Riot, it’s about the themes they embody. It asks people who are already on the scene to look at Pussy Riot, and how they exploded on to it, and respond to it.

Verity: Everyone wanted to have their say and support them; lots of artists wanted to show their support.

Feminist Times: HOW DID YOU PICK THEM?

Verity: We all had a knowledge of different scenes – for me it was the LGBT perspective and also I’ve got a lot of experience working in the folk world so I brought in people like Peggy Seagar. I’m really proud of the project because it’s intergenerational – we have all different ages, and movements and perspectives.

Jade: We tried to be as inclusive as possible. For me intersectionality exists and it’s important for feminism. We wanted to create a dialogue so each piece is almost in correspondence with each other.

Feminist Times: HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE YOU ARE INCLUSIVE?

Jade: One reason we’re doing university talks and going out there ourselves is because you can make one standalone piece that won’t include everybody but once you’re outside of that you can think, ‘ok who didn’t we get in touch with?’ and address those issues.

Verity: There’s a lot of action in universities and to keep this momentum we want to get in there.

Jade: That’s why its called Let’s Start a Pussy Riot. We want people to be inspired to make their own actions.

Feminist Times: WHAT KIND OF CRITICISM HAVE YOU FACED?

Jade: One of the things we’ve found is that people don’t know it’s a grassroots production. I think sometimes they might expect it to be much more polished, so the NME kept comparing it to high-class art and coffee table books. In one way we took from that aesthetic.

Verity: Rough Trade marketed it as ‘look at all these amazing people’ but there wasn’t much about the background.

Jade: Which is that it’s grassroots. I’ve never edited a book before. To be honest, I think I’m heavily critical of it – it could always be better. Maybe we should have put it at the top of the press release – three grassroots people did this!

Verity: Also I think some of the high profile artists work was critiqued as being rushed and that people hadn’t spent enough time on it, but we wanted it to be reactionary. It didn’t matter to us if it only took ten minutes, it’s about the message.

Jade: We also had pieces of work donated to us – Sarah Lucas, Yoko Ono – work that’s re-contextualised in this book, so Yoko’s lyrics take on another meaning.

Feminist Times: WHAT MADE U FEEL CONFIDENT TO LEAD PROJECTS LIKE THIS?

Jade: I’m precocious. From the age of 16 I’ve been involved in different things. In Manchester I used to run something called Same Teens, putting on gigs for young kids. I get bored so easily. I don’t like spare time.

Verity: I want there to be more female role models in the alternative scene. I’m a musician but I’ve put that aside because I care about inspiring change and being a role model. It’s all good sitting there and moaning about stuff but I think it’s way more difficult to go out and do something about it. It’s hard taking that first step and that’s what I find empowering about DIY activism. That’s how I got my foot in the door, putting on this Ladyfest, and I realised that I can put on these events. It’s having that confidence, and in order to have that confidence you need to have people around you to support your work.

Feminist Times: IS THAT EASIER IN LONDON?

Jade: One of the things that annoys me is that things are quite London-centric – coming from Manchester, which is a big city but still there’s parts that are pretty disenfranchised. Elsewhere up north, Newcastle had 100% of its arts funding cut. The current government’s focus is on bringing an international eye on the biggest city we have. But that’s where you get more artists coming out of the framework; though I don’t agree struggling makes you a better artist, it does make you pissed off and want to do something about it.

Verity: I think a lot of people when they first start out expect someone to magically give you funding, but you need to get out there and find all this funding. I want to inspire people to find other ways to make the culture that’s missing in their lives. It’s not easy, but sometimes it is just as simple as getting up and doing it yourself. It’s easier with the internet. I built up my audience on Facebook. You can find your people on the internet. Doesn’t matter where you are.

Feminist Times: WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU TO MAKE YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD?

Jade: Manchester. Grey. The Smiths! Joke. I don’t know what it is, but I just get so annoyed and internalise it and then go, ‘right then let’s put on an event.’ Pussy Riot made me a lot more politically engaged. Things I thought of peripherally have become a lot more important to me – seeing people like that make a stand. That’s why the internet’s good because you can see people like that making a stand and it inspires people.

Feminist Times: WHY PUSSY RIOT AND WHO ARE YOUR ROLE MODELS?

Verity: I don’t think there was one particular role model. I think it was more my peers, finding that support group. I felt so alone as an artist floating into nothing because I didn’t quite fit into any particular scene so that’s where me and my friend Elizabeth started SIATC. I didn’t call it a feminist collective until two years in. I called it a ‘female arts collective’ and then it was obvious that it was feminist, and Pussy Riot made me more hardcore in my feminist activism.

Emy: Their bravery is truly inspiring. Their performance marks a very important generational moment, kickstarting the dialogue about feminism, freedom of speech, LGBTQ rights, power of collaboration again. When I was younger I listened a lot to Sleater Kinney and bands like that but was too young and detached to understand the Riot grrrl movement.

Feminist Times: ADVICE TO OTHERS WHO WANT TO TAKE THE FIRST STEPS ON A PROJECT LIKE THIS?

Jade: Well, you can. For one don’t be daunted. Don’t be daunted by failure because failure only makes the next thing better. If you haven’t got money obviously it’s a tough one but all the stuff I’ve done has been begging for a free venue, charge a quid on the door, which covers a few costs, and ask people to do some stuff for free. Most people oblige because people are great.

Verity: Start with baby steps. You don’t have to have any capital to start, and use the skills of your friends, pull your skills together. You don’t realise the networks you have until you start reaching out. Lot of people don’t have the confidence to ask or take that step but reaching out is the first step.

Feminist Times: HOW WELL DID YOU WORK TOGETHER?

Jade: With everything there’s highs and lows. It was very stressful doing the project.

Verity: We all had other things we were doing. I’ve got a full time job, Jade was on her third year of her degree, Emy was doing her masters.

Emy: The balance between my one year full-time masters and the project was very challenging, for sure. But to be honest, to see how many incredible people stand behind this has helped me forget about the difficulties. The beautiful bunch who has been involved in this project, who have donated labour and put their heart into it, have really made it much easier. It was very moving to realise that there are people who still make projects like this possible, who stand up for what they believe in.

Jade: The fact we’re sitting in this room now is testament that you bicker and it’s over. You’ll be like, “why you using that font? That’s a shit font”, and then you realise maybe that wasn’t the right choice and those things that seem big at the time aren’t.

Verity: We always kept our focus on the bigger picture and that’s the most important thing – don’t get stressed about the small stuff. You’re always going to have to work through these things, you’re not going to always agree in a collective.

Jade: You’ve got to have a thick skin. If you’re going to become really upset because someone doesn’t like your idea for the front cover it’s not going to work.

Verity: There is a lot of passion so of course there’s fire.

Jade: I’m just so proud of everyone involved.

Feminist Times: FAINTHEARTED ACTIVISM HAS BEEN ONE OF OUR MOST POPULAR ARTICLES. WHAT CAN A FAINTHEARTED ACTIVIST DO?

Jade: Well, Pussy Riot took that action and we made a book instead. We didn’t go and stand outside Westminster.

Verity: You have to find your strengths. I have to tell myself every day that I can’t bloody save the world, I can’t solve everyone’s problems. You’ve got to honor yourself and do what you can within your means.

Jade: Anything you do in the day can be an action. If you didn’t shave your legs today – I really do believe that is an action. Or if you’ve never publicly spoken and you’re really terrified, if you take the step and publicly speak then you’re empowering yourself and there’s a lot to say for small actions everyday. And they’re not acknowledged and you won’t be on the front page of the news, but if you feel a bit better about being a woman then there’s no harm. Don’t compare yourself to Pussy Riot. They chose that action because it almost chose them. Also in this country we have a very bad response to public protest. Why would you go and protest when the Iraq war happened, when the student fees were raised, when the cuts were made? Why would you take to the streets because people don’t seem to listen. We made a book and that’s how we chose to enter the conversation.

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#ManWeek: Taboo Corner – The Truth About Men

Taboo Corner is a small space on Feminist Times for women to be open about uncomfortable thoughts they have and the personal reasons behind them, helping uncover disconcerting female truths that are normally repressed and opening them up for honest debate. Feminist Times is different to other magazines in that it won’t airbrush your frown lines or your emotions… Submit your own Taboo Corner piece: editorial@feministtimes.com

The Truth About Men, by a Radical Feminist:

Like many women trapped in abusive relationships with men, most feminists are still at the stage of desperately hoping the men inflicting the damage can be changed or reformed. If only they can make him understand, educate him or even work with him then surely it’s possible to persuade him to stop wreaking all this terrible pain and destruction. The problem for abuse victims, and for feminists, is that the abuser’s ambition is his victim’s pain and destruction. It’s not an unintended consequence; it is his planned for result.

Men’s war against women has been the longest war in existence. As the female casualties keep mounting up, we need shelters in our communities where women can flee their homes to safety, hidden from their male batterers; we need helplines for rape victims trapped in PTSD; we need therapists for the child victims of rapist fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, or any other predator/chancer who happened to be in the vicinity and felt like helping himself; we need surgeons to enter war zones to sew back together the sexual organs of tens of thousands of women who men have raped and tortured there; we need coffins for the dead; we need remembrance for millions who were denied life because of their sex; and we need feminist campaigning because we still hope we can persuade men that all this must stop.

Feminism, the politics which has so far offered women our best hope of freedom from our suffering and annihilation at the hands of men, is however still generally framed as an issue of gender inequality – as if someone simply got a bigger piece of cake than their friend – whilst the cruel fact of male brutality and sadism towards women fades into the background, or becomes another policy or public health issue. The agent – men – is euphemised and erased into gender or becomes non-specific as in “Violence Against Women and Girls“ with accompanying acronym. If you’re political it gets called “patriarchy“ – abstract terms are often used to obscure male oppression of women rather than to enlighten us about it; you’ll see quite a few people arguing that patriarchy doesn’t mean men. In the meantime, women are left with a politics where women’s reality – that men are hurting us – is absent.

As feminists hope for the best with men, men continue expressing what we can only deduce must be their true selves, given that no one forces them to behave the way they do: in fact, they invented it. For an abused woman, the answer to this violent expression of maleness is to escape the man hurting her. Physical separation from him is the best solution to stop the violence (although, horrifically, the process of leaving a violent man is the time when he is most likely to become lethal). Similarly, radical feminists advocate separation from men in response to men’s violence against women and their exploitation of us. Separatism for radical feminists is a refusal to put women in harm’s way; a refusal to supply female energy to men; and most importantly a conscious decision to centre women. Whilst separatism looks like a partial political answer currently, because of the illegitimate control men have over the planet and its populations, making them impossible to completely escape, it is a vital part of the process of women’s freedom. Women’s energy, directed towards ourselves rather than wasted on reforming men, is and will be transformative.

Maya Angelou said, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” When are feminists finally going to believe what men have shown us about themselves? And, following on from that, when we understand and believe what we’ve been shown, do we have the strength and courage to do what’s necessary for female survival and liberation?

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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#ManWeek: The Bad Boy of Feminism on how to be a good male feminist

I have a confession to make about the birth of my son three months ago. My wife and I had decided that we would not find out the sex of the baby but I had been hoping for a girl because we already have a three year old boy and it’s always nice to have the full set. Especially when you are a proud male feminist, as I am. When the beautiful little boy was delivered and I saw his gender, I was surprised to discover that I felt a huge sense of relief surge through me. I realised that I was, in fact, enormously glad that I was not going to have a girl after all.

Let me be clear. This was not because of the old cliché that with two boys you only have two dicks to worry about but with girls you have every dick to worry about. No, I was relieved because I would not want to bring a woman into a world where she would be oppressed, marginalised and discriminated against from the moment she was born.

Given a pink robe moments after birth, told she would be a certain way as a teenager, knowing that she would be destined to earn less than men, be ogled by men and almost certainly at some point in her life be abused mentally or physically in everyday life by misogynists who roam undetected and unchecked by the patriarchal society we live in.

The lack of concern about women’s issues in society is just staggering. Women make up half the world and every single woman suffers persecution in one way or another every day but it is not considered a ‘fashionable’ cause to support. Why? It’s half the world! Whether it be genital mutilation, smaller salaries or sexual abuse on the tube, every woman is affected but so many otherwise intelligent but grossly misguided people on the street and in the public eye claim feminism is no longer necessary.

Put simply, how fucking dare they.

So what can I do as a male feminist do to help? Well for starters, I can make my two boys grow up to be good feminists. Treat women with the respect they deserve but also encourage others to fight for it. And stand up and speak when they see something they know to be wrong.

And to ensure this, I need to lead by example. And I do try to live my life as a good feminist. I would like to think I treat all women with respect and as equals (or superiors – which they generally are) but while also being a gentleman. The two are not mutually exclusive. Do I always hold doors open for women, let them take my seat on the tube and insist on paying for their drinks? Yes I do but that’s being gentlemanly. You can be a gentleman and a feminist. The two are not mutually exclusive.

But I am not perfect. I have done and do things I am hugely ashamed of that I hope my sons never do. Have I been known to ogle women? Yes I have. Granted, I have never been a brute hanging out of a white van shouting obscenities at a woman presumably on the misguided belief that she is going to turn around and offer herself sexually to these abusive oafs. But I have been known to turn my head to get a better look at a woman as she walks past me. And it’s wrong. Shockingly so. She didn’t dress up nicely that morning to have my disgusting face turning to ogle her and undress her with my eyes. But sometimes I can’t help myself and it’s wrong. I truly believe this to be a violation of all women that while not as affecting as rape, it is in the same ballpark. My natural instinct is to ogle. I wish it wasn’t so I fight it. And I’ve got better lately. It is possible for men to curb this instinct just as it is possible for them not to use pornography. Every time they do so it is a choice to exploit and demean all women. Which is why I have stopped. For now. It’s an every day struggle.

Men (and some women) argue it’s a natural instinct but so is rage but that does not make violence towards women acceptable. It may not be easy but you just need to recondition yourself. For example I have had a small piece of glass embedded in my foot for the past few weeks. I broke a glass and stepped in it. My natural instinct is to walk as I always have done. But I can’t because the glass there in painful so I have learned to walk on the side of my foot to avoid the painful area. And I remember that every time a woman catches my eye. I can avoid turning my head and I must. Because every time I do I am violating her.

And anyway, where does this desire come from. Is it from within? Are men born with it as many claim? Or is it society conditioning us with sexual images and making us believe all women are there to be ogled? I am not smart enough to answer these questions but I suspect it is a bit of both.

But stopping ogling and using pornography is only the beginning. The civil rights movement didn’t succeed because people decided to just ignore racism. No, we have to speak up. The most important thing for male feminists to do is to say when they disapprove of something. It is an unfortunate fact that thirty years ago at a dinner table if someone made a racist comment we may have ignored it if we disapproved. Twenty years ago homophobic comments would go uncorrected. But thankfully now, on the whole, right-minded people will now object when they hear such utterances. What men can do is start doing the same for misogyny. When a friend or colleague is boasting of a sexual conquest and describing the women in misogynistic terms, we need to speak up. Not laugh, or stay silent. But say: ‘This is not ok. I find that offensive.’ Just as we would if we hear someone making a racist or homophobic comment.

That’s the way forward. Make those who speak of women in derogatory ways as outcasted as those who express racist or homophobic views.

It is time to speak up and repeat after me. This is not ok. This is not ok. This is not ok.

And if my sons can do this, then hopefully when they have children in thirty years or so, things will have changed enough that they can rejoice the birth of their daughters into a world where they will be treated with the decency they deserve.

James Mullinger will be performing his stand up show about his life as a male feminist The Bad Boy Of Feminism as part of the Bath Literary Festival 8th March 2014 Follow @jamesmullinger

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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Space Invaders: Men in feminist spaces

You know what it’s like – you’re at a gathering of the feminist persuasion, and something shocking and appalling occurs. It’s too vile to comprehend. A shadowy figure appears in the doorway: A man.

Oh God. Quick, remove him by the scruff of his neck immediately! Do not touch any part of him! YOU MAY GET CONTAMINATED!

I’m joking, of course. I love a male feminist – just as much as I love anyone who genuinely thinks people who own vaginas should be equal to those who don’t.

However, at a recent workshop on non-hierarchical relationship models, the following comment was made: “If you’re a man, saying you’re a feminist is probably one of the sexiest things you could say.”

Imagine my horror then when I turned to my left and saw a man, who I have known to aggressively shout at women who refused to have sex with him, sitting with a huge grin plastered across his face.

I’m no longer being facetious when I say that a genuine feeling of discomfort and anxiety formed in the pit of my stomach. What scared me? I realized that, as the feminist movement grows, we are being infiltrated. Imposters exist within our ranks, wearing feminism as an attractive lure, hoping we little ladies will rush upon them, doe-eyed, letting them liberate us – in the Robin Thicke sense, rather than the Suffragette movement sense.

This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, in a move that transparently appeared to everyone else as, “Erm, erm, how do I get women to like me? Oh bugger, help!” David Cameron took a deep breath and declared that he is a feminist.

But these men, telling you how much they want Miley Cyrus to put some clothes on in the hope that you’ll take yours off, are just as scary as a Tory prime minister whose face betrays no sign of human emotion.

So rare is it to achieve a women-only space – just look at basically every comedy panel show on the TV, a.k.a. ‘Only middle-aged white men are funny’, 10.30pm, every day of the week – that to have this broken into by disingenuous male feminists feels like an attack on feminist gains.

If masquerading under the guise of feminism becomes a tactic for men to get into our knickers it will perpetuate the age-old power dynamics that we seek to overcome, and remove our autonomy. Men will use our movement to satisfy their own whims, and instead of chasing liberation we will be shooing out double agents that have co-opted feminism to enslave us.

It’s fairly easy to see who is the real deal. The faux-lovers of lady liberation are so busy telling you what big feminists they are that they don’t actually allow the women they care so much to empower get a word in edgeways. Show, don’t tell, boys. Sometimes, the lady doth protest too much. And in this instance, I’m not referring to the repetitive whining of us old bags, but your overly defensive browbeating about feminist theory.

There’s an interesting idea in feminism, which is that we don’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time. That’s kind of the point.

Any male feminist is a friend of mine. He’s welcome to join the club. But he’s got to remember, it’s our club, not his, and we make the rules – and one of those is that talking about Judith Butler so he can prod us with his willy is not allowed.

Jessie Thompson is www.girlignited.com   Follow her here @jessiecath

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What’s so safe about feminist, women-only space?

Women-only space has garnered a lot of attention in feminist circles. Most of the discussion has been devoted to fiery debates addressing the rights and wrongs of women’s claims to autonomous space, rather than what goes on inside women-only space. Noting how significantly women-only space was experienced by women who attended the North East Feminist Gathering (NEFG, a feminist women-only weekend event), we investigated what goes on once we move beyond the protesters and defenders, stepping across the threshold into feminist women-only space.

Women reported the experience of women-only space as profoundly significant in their lives. While the spectre of the ‘feminist killjoy’ looms over feminist politics, women expressed their experience of women-only space in terms of ‘euphoric joy’.  They described the NEFG as “a whole burst of energy.”  There was ”this great big buzz”, it “felt warm and friendly”, “fresh, creative.” One participant summed it up as: “that real feeling that this is something really special and amazing that’s happened here.”

Women repeatedly referred to the NEFG as a “safe” space. It made them feel safe from the ‘everyday sexism’ they, as feminists, challenge and resist. For some, used to protecting themselves on a daily basis, feeling safe came as a shock:

“I think it hit home to me about being in a safe space. It was just weird when I was at the social and I went to the loo. Normally when I’m in a club I don’t leave my drink when I go to the loo, I take it with me because I’m worried it might get spiked and then I just suddenly didn’t because I thought, no one here would do that.’ It was weird how it hit me that it was a safe space.”

The feminist women-only space enabled them to feel safe to fully participate, to express themselves, to engage in respectful, challenging exchanges: “safety for me is not feeling scared to say what I feel called to say, knowing that I am going to be listened to and respected. And I felt that at the NEFG.” For other women, the relief of being in feminist women-only space was what made them feel safe to engage:

“We live with a level of fear of expressing ourselves or speaking out, or voicing our real opinions. And consequently we’re looking for a situation where we can put down that fear and express ourselves freely, have some space where it’s okay to say what you really think. It’s not about everybody agreeing or disagreeing or everybody having the same opinion, it’s about being able to listen and share in a way that somehow in mixed company always ends up in a more combative scenario; somebody’s got to be right and somebody’s got to be wrong.”

Woman said being released from having to defend their feminist politics enabled deep discussions. Deep reflection about politics and identity included participants “working through prejudices, egos, competitiveness” and “being challenged to think about one’s own sexism and stereotypes”. In these safe, in-depth exchanges, women could expand themselves, fulfil their potential, and take up their space.

“A space that is women-only exhibits women’s potential – you really see how different it is. It’s a safe environment for us to explore ourselves as women in different ways and to practice being that confident. To me, it is about seeing women be how they can be.”

In safe spaces, women explored their potential rather than censoring themselves. Safety fostered confidence to speak, to share, to explore one’s skills and talents as well as to be emotionally expressive: “It felt really open and honest, you could just be yourself.” For some, this meant discovering who they were:

“I was like, I’m discovering myself! Oh, is this who I am when I’m not constantly fighting? It’s like starting the race but you’re already halfway through; you haven’t had to do the first really hard bit of the run, you‘re just in the bit when you feel really good.”

Another young woman, released of the need to justify her politics, told us: “I think I felt cleverer just having that part of my brain freed up. I genuinely did feel cleverer. I was like, ‘I’ve got all these ideas when I give myself the chance to say them.’”

Women’s accounts point to the scope for feminist women-only space to enable women to fulfil their potential as civic human beings, in sharp contrast to their everyday experiences of living in patriarchy.

A footnote about the research: For the research, we invited women who’d attended the 1st NEFG, in October 2012, to join a group discussion. Of the 95 contacts, 29 women (30%) attended a group discussion. We also ran a group discussion for women who did not attend the NEFG but were interested in it. Seven discussion groups were conducted; they were recorded and transcribed. Women’s ages ranged from 19 to 70, there were straight, lesbian, bi and queer women, a few were disabled, almost all were white, and the groups comprised various work statuses. Women’s comments are reported anonymously.

Dr Ruth Lewis is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Northumbria University and Elizabeth Sharp is Associate Professor in Human Development & Family Studies at Texas Tech University and Visiting Fellow, School of Applied Social Science at Durham University.

For further information about the project and our other publications, please contact: Ruth Lewis ruth.lewis@northumbria.ac.uk or Elizabeth Sharp sharp.eliz@gmail.com

Image: Elizabeth Sharp and Ruth Lewis at NEFG13, courtesy of Roweena Russell.

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A weekend in the Activist Garden at NEFG13

Last weekend saw the second annual North East Feminist Gathering (NEFG) in Newcastle. Feminist Times travelled up to live-tweet the event, meet supporters and find out all about the grassroots activism going on in the region. I was promised a warm North East welcome, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The NEFG team had, just two days before the Gathering, said goodbye to a much-loved team member, activist and friend, Alice Jebb, whose death in the weeks leading up to the event had naturally shaken the rest of the team. It was beyond inspiring to watch a group of grieving women pull together to make NEFG13 a beautiful, carnival-like tribute to their friend.

In fact, the NEFG was by far the most vibrant feminist conference I’ve ever attended – and not just because the Westend Women and Girls Centre, where it was held, is decorated in bright pink, purple and lime green, with a sparkly purple floor! Above the stairs hung a hand painted banner declaring “Feminism: back by popular demand” and handmade “knicker bunting” decorated the length of the banister. In keeping with their theme, ‘The Activist Garden’, the main hall was decked out with artificial flowers, grass, trees, insects and animals in memory of Alice, who had likened activists to gardeners, “sowing seeds for the future.”

Activist Garden

This activist garden idea was equally reflected in the diversity of women and views represented. As a women-only space there was an emphasis throughout the weekend on inclusion of all women (including trans women and sex workers), on safe spaces for discussion and disclosure, and on respectful, supportive disagreement. The 100 or so participants ranged from teenagers to pensioners and working to middle class, with white women, women of colour, disabled women, straight women, lesbian and bi women all in attendance, united by a tangible atmosphere of sisterhood. Fat, hairy feminists with cropped hair and Doc Martins sat alongside fully made-up women in dresses and heels. I’m a relatively recent convert to the idea of feminist women-only spaces, but the shared sense of comfort and confidence I felt in that building was unlike anything you find in the ‘real’ world.

Saturday morning kicked off in lively style, with music from drummers Hannabiell & Midnight Blue to make sure we were all awake before the first plenary – a talk by Julie Scanlon on Fourth Wave Feminism. Julie talked us through the history of the feminist movement, as well as current campaigns and groups including Everyday Sexism Project, No More Page 3, Southall Black Sisters and Rape Crisis. Citing Susan Marine’s work with Ruth Lewis, she suggested thinking about the movement in terms of an interwoven but continuous tapestry, rather than a series of distinct waves – a tapestry where we learn from each other as we add our own unique skills and experiences to the existing movement.

A particularly poignant moment came in the whole-group feedback session on Sunday afternoon when 19-year-old Lizi Gray, founder of Newcastle SlutWalk and a member of the NEFG team, thanked the older women in the room for taking her seriously. 57-year-old Jackie Haq, founder of the Jackie Haq Trust for Scotswood, responded by thanking Lizi for acknowledging her ageing feminist sisters, who also so often feel overlooked.

Workshops throughout the weekend focused on staple issues of feminist discourse – violence against women and girls, consciousness raising, and political representation – as well as more modern issues like how best to incorporate social media into our activism. On Saturday morning Aylssa Cowell from 7North CIC led an insightful workshop on abuse in teenage relationships, backed up on the Sunday by a workshop from the Everyday Victim Blaming team. I was disappointed to miss out on the consciousness raising workshop, which participants seemed to unanimously agree was excellent. Instead, my final workshop of the weekend was on welfare reform, led by Trish from Citizens’ Advice Bureau, whose personal anger at the system was complemented by the real, human stories behind the statistics, as well as sensible, practical advice about understanding your welfare rights.

Run entirely by volunteers working on a shoestring budget, the DIY feel of the Gathering was refreshing and added to the event’s North East, grassroots focus. Delicious food and drink throughout the weekend was provided by local business, Salsa Café, for just £5 per person. Lunch was accompanied on the Saturday by music from legendary feminist band The Friggin’ Little Bits, and on Sunday by the NEFG choir singing feminist alternatives to well-known songs.

By far the highlight though was the Saturday evening Open Mary – a feminist alternative to the Open Mic that was established at NEFG12 after the performers booked for the evening event failed to show up. Performances at the Open Mary included poetry on loss, pubic hair and kitchen appliances, music about being uncool by a choir from Hebden Bridge, stand-up about the menopause, and a hilarious silent sketch on vulvas. The finale was an exuberant scene of music, drumming and dancing led by Hannabiell & Midnight Blue, meaning that everyone left Saturday on a (slightly exhausted) high.

Open Mary

Over lunch on Sunday, someone commented to me that, “the confidence and safety we feel in women-only spaces is how men feel everywhere, every day. Men don’t understand that, and many women don’t understand that until they experience it.” As a journalist I tried really hard to find something to criticise, but I couldn’t; the warmth, humour, and security of NEFG was, to quote one of last year’s participants, “an oasis in the desert of patriarchy”.

Thank you and well done to the NEFG team: Roweena, Ruth, Jenny, Martine, Angela, Bridget, Helen, Libby, Lizi, Nina and Bobby – particularly for the generous hospitality of those who provided bed and board for attendees (like me) visiting from outside the North East. I’ve attended lots of feminist conferences in the last few years, but lately they’ve left me feeling more jaded and depressed than hopeful. On Tuesday though I left a grey and miserable Newcastle feeling rejuvenated, buzzing with inspiration and confidence after a truly fantastic weekend, and very much looking forward to NEFG 2014.

Open Mary

All images courtesy of the NEFG team.

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NEFG2012

Newcastle firmly on the feminist map

One of the first phone calls I received when I started working on this magazine was from North East Feminist Gathering (NEFG) co-organiser Roweena Russell, eager to tell me all about the exciting feminist times they’re having up in the North East.

Home to the family of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, the North East, I discovered, is a hive of grassroots feminist activity; in Newcastle alone there’s the Newcastle Women’s Collective, Newcastle University Feminist Society and Newcastle Slutwalk.

A delegation from the NEWomen’s Network travelled to Geneva in July for the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and NEWomen member Cris McCurley wrote for our website launch about CEDAW’s findings on the UK Government’s changes to legal aid.

This weekend, 150 feminists are assembling in Newcastle for the second annual North East Feminist Gathering. This year’s sold-out, two-day gathering has panel discussions and workshops covering fourth wave feminism, legal aid, violence against women, disability, black women’s activism, women in party politics and more. Other activities on offer over the weekend include making feminist knicker bunting and an Open Mary, a feminist version of the Open Mic.

SarahGrahamI’ll be covering the NEFG for Feminist Times all weekend – tweeting about #NEFG13 from @Feminist_Times, chatting to attendees, recruiting new Feminist Times members, and answering any questions you have about the website and magazine. One of the most striking things about organising my trip so far has been the friendliness and hospitality of the NEFG team. Please do look out for me if you’re there – we’d love to hear from you.

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Cannibals

Video: Cannibals

Cannibals (2013) is developed out of ongoing research around an online community – ‘Women Empowering Women’.  In this instance notions of female empowerment operate as an authoritative branding tool, WEW emerges as a traditional pyramid scheme; a microcosm of a capitalist system, mirroring an image of unsustainable growth. Before they eat, the women participate in ‘emotional circuit training’; the body is ‘tenderized’ in preparation for self-consumption. The fictional process deteriorates when one of the participants observes this pseudo-therapeutic process to be eating away at itself.

Artist Lucy Beech was born in Sheffield, 1985. Working predominantly with video, a central focus of her work is an exploration of how performance is initiated in non-theatrical environments as a tool for transforming private stories and experiences into public communicative acts. www.lucybeech.com

Recent and forthcoming exhibitions include:  Outpost, Norwich (2013), Plaza Plaza, London (2013), V22, Young London (2013), 21st Century, Chisenhale Gallery (2013), IMT London (2011) She has also been working collaboratively with Edward Thomasson since 2007, developing performance works for both theatre and gallery contexts including: the 2nd Biennale de Belleville, Paris (2012); Open House, South London Gallery (2012); 7 Year Itch, More Soup and Tart, Barbican Theatre, London (2011) and Holding it Together. Night and Day Performance event, Modern Art Oxford (2010).

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