As our regional Feminist Times team hurtles towards our first event, I was asked by Editor Deborah Coughlin, why I got involved in setting up a regional events team for the Feminist Times in the West Midlands.
If there had been a short answer to this question it would have made for a very dull blog. The long answer, however, may just fill a book. So here’s my attempt at a shortened and abridged version of why I signed up.
My story starts as an undergraduate, studying the psychology of women, listening to female narratives, discovering feminism as a political movement. These experiences have led me down all sorts of paths of personal and political enlightenment and have created a life long fascination with the psychology of the female body, feminism, women’s talk, herstory, mythology and Goddesses. It also inspired a desire to learn from, and to educate, other women, to join them on their path to enlightenment.
It was this desire that then led me to Youth Work, specifically sexual health education and work with young women in particular. It’s hard to find specific funding to work with young women on issues of sexual equality and I’ve had to be creative to make this kind of work bend to a specifically feminist agenda. More recently, austerity measures have seen further cuts to services for young people so it’s really exciting to see the re-emergence of feminist youth work, like Feminist Webs in the last year or so, but it’s not common place.
The relative informality of the youth work process has all but disappeared in recent years but in my early career the job afforded me hours of sitting in coffee shops, discussing projects, planning sessions and biding my time between them. It was during this immersion in coffee culture that I was first invited to become involved in putting on a VDay event in our local community. I jumped at the chance.
It was great being involved in these events, working collectively with wonderful women to create amazing events out of thin air. Shouting the reclaimed C-word to audiences, raising money for grassroot’s women’s organisations and awareness of women’s global issues to a wide range of women and girls. After doing this for 4 years, however, life has taken me down some unexpected paths and now, one tragedy, one wedding, a pregnancy, and one 7 year old girl child later, my heart and my head are back in action, and feminism calls once more.
During the last three years I’ve been attending the Women of the World festival in London’s Southbank Centre. It’s another contributing factor to my wanting to get involved in feminist events. My experiences there could be a whole other blog in itself but one thing I’m always struck by is how especially awesome it would be if there could be such an event nearer home. Something a little less London centric, where it might be possible to network with like minded local folk.
It was with all these things in mind that I responded to a call for action at the end of last year from the newly founded Feminist Times. The call was to help them fulfill a promise to their members to put on local events. A call that came at a perfect time for me, a frustrated feminist, looking for the right opportunity to ride the current wave. How could I not get involved?
In February I traveled to Birmingham to meet with Deborah to look at how we might start turning an idea into a reality. Since then it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride. That initial meeting was the start of so many fantastic conversations with many fascinating women, each inspiring many brilliant ideas: an arts festival showcasing women’s talent, a WoW festival for the Midlands, Feminist Barbie’s, a Feminist Café, an Edit-a-thon, a Feminist Burlesque show with a Q&A with performers, Feminist workshops in schools, a political party for the new Feminist order… Sometimes it felt like my head might explode.
I soon realised that these ideas were part of something much bigger than I could conceive and definitely bigger than the original brief. I also appeared to be getting carried away by that greater power that understands that when you bring the right women together something quite magical often happens. Fortunately, I also realised that I needed to reign myself in, harness just a few ideas, if I was to achieve anything at all. From small acorns do oak trees grow.
So in reorganising my thoughts I was able to bring together a small group of women, under the banner of a West Midlands Feminist Times team. We are collectively 20 something to 50 something. We each come with a diverse set of backgrounds, passions and experiences to bring to the table, and each with a unique desire to help galvanise a local feminist movement.
Obviously the range of potential themes and topics for our first event were vast but we quickly decided on an event that reflected the context of the recent local and European elections. We were interested in media discussions about all women shortlists. We were angry about increasing cuts, locally and nationally, to the services that have women and children at their heart. We were excited by articles about feminist parties in other European countries and intrigued as to how countries that are generally presented as less politically advanced by our British media could have better female representation in their governing bodies. Our own personal interests and concerns seemed to be centering around politics and how the world might be different with more women in positions of power and influence.
In addition to this, we were all fascinated by the ‘Worcester Woman‘. This politically contentious and ambiguous creature is said to represent the female face of middle England. It’s hard to find when and where the term was first coined but it’s generally understood to have appeared around 1997 and is used in the political media to describe a particularly type of female voter with ‘consumerist views and a shallow interest in politics’. Conversationally, if you Google ‘Worcester Woman’ most of the articles on the first page consist of the furthering of this political stereotype, none challenge it’s basic premise. As a diverse group of Worcester Women, as feminists, and as the West Midlands Feminist Times we decided we wanted to redress this notion of shallowness, we wanted to talk back.
And so our first event was conceived, meeting in women’s centres, cafés, pubs and our own homes to create our first happening: a panel event in the center of Worcester focusing on women’s place in contemporary politics. Since then it’s been a hectic month of extreme multi tasking for all of us. Juggling jobs, families and extra curricula activities with the planning of an event and all that it entails. A venue to find, a panel to compile, letters to write, calls to make, networks to draw upon, favours to ask, decisions to make, problems to solve, solutions to find, publicity to organise, flyers to disseminate, volunteers to recruit…..and now here we are, just days away from pulling off an extraordinary event.
The evening promises to be one of interesting and exciting discussion and debate in Worcester’s prestigious Guildhall. With an amazing panel drawn from local politicians, councillors and academics, as well as the Feminist Times own Editor, Deborah Coughlin. Our title for the event is obviously a rhetorical question (Worcester Woman talks back: should there be more women in politics?) but I’m very intrigued to see how our panel translates the question and how our audience will respond.
My personal hope for this event is that it might create further opportunities for discussion and action at a local level. I hope it encourages people to look at the barriers to women’s participation in local politics and also to look at ways of supporting and encouraging more women and girls into seeing a political career as an achievable and desirable goal.
Longer term I hope that we are able to offer a wide variety of events across the West Midlands that attract diverse audiences of feminists and potential feminists and those still unsure. I’d like to encourage collaboration with other feminist networks, perhaps ultimately creating a strong regional network of passionate, creative voices across the West Midlands. Anything I can do to contribute to this current wave of feminism, participating in its ebb and flow and continuing momentum, hoping to make a difference to people’s lives by challenging the status quo.
So watch this space for our future events (we have a Feminist Café event on the 18th June) and if you have an idea for a Fem T event in the West Midlands then please get in touch.
Attend our debut event “Worcester Woman talks back: Should there be more women in politics?” Contact us at email@example.com
Leisa Taylor is a Youth Worker, Tutor, sometime blogger, Jill of all Trades, Feminista Extrordinaire, currently learning to pay the Ukulele. Follow her on Twitter @munachik; Facebook & LinkedIn @ Leisa Taylor; munachik.wordpress.com
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