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Feminism in London 2013

on October 27, 2013

Trigger warning: mentions of violence, rape, sexual abuse and menstruation.

Yesterday I attended Feminism in London 2013 a yearly feminist conference which this year took place at the Institute of Education near Russell Square. This is how my day went.

I’d never been to the Institute of Education before but it turned out to be part of a big university building which it seemed was a bit confusing to find to quite a few other people attending as I saw others looking, eventually I saw a corridor with a Feminism in London poster up and another lost soul, so we went inside together and we still weren’t in exactly the right place, it was on a few floors and eventually we found the registration downstairs.  I got my name checked off and collected my bag full of leaflets (which I will post about at the end of this blog).

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The day started off with everyone coming together in the mail hall for the opening speeches. This was a mixed conference so it was interesting to see the type of people who came (apparently there was just under 800 people)! There was mostly women, but there were also some men and transgender/non-gendered. There were some women with babies (I saw one being breast fed a few rows in front of me), children (I saw a little boy with a self made t shirt saying ‘boys like pink too!’ aww) and a very wide range of ages right up to around 60.

The conference was opened by Kate Smurthwaite, a comedian and activist, who I have came across at events before and am warming more and more to. She spoke about an event she had been at the previous day organised by the BBC- 100 Women– with women debating issues facing us today. She said how the presenter had ironically started the conference by saying “You all look wonderful!” so with that in mind, Kate decided to open this one with “You can be fat!” and also a clear note that we could argue, that we didn’t have to agree with everything that was said today. She also mentioned how she had took part in a debate about Syria (I think that’s what the debate was) but the news had decided Miley Cirus was a more pressing issue to cover! How Miley is NOT a women’s issue but a men’s issue.

Then the speeches were opened by spoken word poet Leah Thorn who read a poem she had just written called “Shh!” about the various issues of feminism and how we won’t shut up! It was amazing, I wish I could find it to show you but hopefully she will put it online soon.

Next to speak was Green Party member Caroline Lucas who I am probably a bit biased about, as I find her very inspiring, but her speech was the best I heard all day. She spoke about all the current feminist projects- everyday sexism, the TFYA, No More Page 3 and Lose the Lad mags were all mentioned. She spoke of the irony of her being told to cover up her ‘No More page 3’ t shirt when speaking in parliament recently. She mentioned the shocking stats of violence towards women and the link between sexualised images in mainstream media and sexual violence. She argued that yes lads mags and page 3 are about choice- we should have a choice that we can walk in a local supermarket and not have to see them. That people who want these kind of publications could still get them just online or specialist shops. She also spoke about the lack of women in the media.

Second speech was from Natalya Dell, an activist for disability and bi-sexual rights. I also found her speech very interesting and inspiring. It was very interesting to hear from this kind of point of view as it was a relative new one for me to hear about, and made me feel much more aware of the complexity of intersectionality. If you take a peek at her twitter feed, you can see that some of the things she said caused some controversy to some people (not me) like saying she had only agreed to speak the event as it wasn’t a ‘women only’ space. I support both types of spaces as my experiences so far of both have been positive, but I think it’s important to hear the opinion of ALL women. She spoke about the sexism she experienced as a young girl who needed technology to get by, her dad was very supportive but if he had to take her to buy something, the sales assistants would talk to him instead of Natalya. She spoke about disability charities,  how she’s sure the work they do is good, but she doesn’t feel she should be grateful for them, because they are providing things that are taken for granted by non disabled people, that they are things they have a right to have too. She spoke about her experience of being bisexual and becoming aware of various intersectionality issues she dealt with being an organiser of Bi-Con. her trouble with the job centre.  I think a lot of the event was filmed so I am hoping that will be videos up of the speeches as I feel like Natalya’s would be an important one to share.

The final speaker was Shabina Begum– an activist for acid violence. She started her speech about acid violence by asking if we would give up any of our senses if we had a choice, to fully understand how it feels for a victim of acid violence. I haven’t heard of this crime really before but I found it shocking that this crime is growing more and more in the UK as well as other countries and yet we aren’t even aware of it happening. She asked that we make others aware of it- so here’s a link for you to check out- here

Then there was a short break before the first workshop I had booked- “Challenging Linked Systems of Power- Towards a whole-istic feminism”
First we heard briefly from a few speakers their thoughts- Cynthia Cockburn– a feminist writer, Jenny Nelson– from Red Pepper magazine, Pragna Patel– a founding member of Southall Black Sisters, and Ece Kocabiak- an activist in Turkey. They covered things like the cuts and the experience of black women. The rest of the workshop was practical, we were all seated at tables in groups with two large bits of paper one headed “Your experiences” and the other “Your strategies”. First we had to write about our experiences of sexism, racism, classism etc. On our table it was very much all about sexism in families and also religion. Then we had to write ideas on the strategy paper before we heard back from some of the groups. Some ideas that came up for various people were creating a women’s political party, discussing more lack of representation and networks of educators and women in media. To be honest although I liked the idea of the workshop, I really struggled with it, as a lot of language was being used that I didn’t really understand, so I kind of wished I had gone to a different one, but apparently all the ideas will be emailed out to us, and I think the people who organised the workshop are planning some kind of group or movement around what it was about, so it will be interesting to hear what happens next.

It was then lunch hour, so I had a little stroll, looking at the stalls- some selling books, various organisations and there was some artwork to look at too. I didn’t take many photos but here are a couple:

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As I was walking about I came across the Red Tent

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the ‘spiritual’ room. I had read that this would be doing a lunch time work shop but when I looked they had a sign up saying about a number of workshops happening- felt a bit annoyed that I might have missed out something better in the morning, and then debated whether I should go to the Women in The media panel I had booked in for, or whether I should spend the afternoon session in the tent as it felt very calm in the space just outside the tent (lots of books, crystals, meditation music), and decided I would go to the red tent instead as I thought I had missed out and wanted to spend at least part of the day in there. As it turns out I’m not exactly sure how many workshops they did do in there as when I went in it turned out to be the workshop advertised for the lunch hour ‘Menstruation- Sat Nav of the Soul- cultivating awareness, creativity and healing through tending to the wisdom of our cycles’ but I thought since I had ended up in the circle of women, I must have meant to be there. We passed around a talking stick and each said why they were there, a bit about how they were feeling and where they were in their cycle right now. Each different part of the tent represented a different part of the cycle- I was in the ‘Ovulating’ part which is about right! Then the lady running it spoke about comparing different parts of the cycle to the seasons- the winter being our period, pre menstrual being autumn etc, and we talked about the kinds of things we feel the seasons are about and how we can translate it into our monthly cycles. we spoke about how we want to rest when we are on our periods, and the leader (sorry I can’t find her name anywhere) said this is the time we should spend journeying/meditating and really listening to what is inside us, as we are at most intuitive, and also how pre menstrual time is very much about deep and often harsh truths that we really need to take heed of. It was also about noting how we feel on different times of the cycle and honouring that- don’t organise big important events if you struggle on pre menstrual week, doing creative projects during menstruation and so on. I found it very interesting, After we did a brief meditation about connecting to our ‘yoni’ we had to make the sound we felt, and we went round and those who wanted to shared wisdom they received.

Finally it was time for the closing speeches which I didn’t find as inspiring as the morning’s but maybe because I was tired by then. There was a speech from Gita Sahgal and the Emma Humpreys memorial prizes were handed out- awards for people and groups who have helped against violence to women. Final speech was from Finn MacKay who got a standing ovation, although I’m not sure I agreed with everything she said myself. I didn’t take many notes for the closing speeches so sorry I can’t tell you more!

There was an anti porn conference and the Reclaim the Night march but I didn’t go to either. Overall I found the event very good and inspiring and found there were many views being shared which was good. I then went to a nearby park after which made me really happy as there were lots of squirrels who came right up to me in there!

Finally i’ll end with what was in the bag I took home-some I took from various stalls but mostly they were already inside-

Peace News

Friends of the Earth

Ethical Consumer

London Feminist Network

Women’s Aid National Training Centre

Socialist Party

Free Stacey Hyde- a justice for women’s campaign

Green Party

national Secular Society

White Ribbon Campaign

Tender

Cool Tan Arts

Feminist Library newsletter

Billy the Girl musical

Bad Housekeeping

Conscienceonline

Feminist Times


5 responses to “Feminism in London 2013

  1. Rosa says:

    Hi – interesting post! Just to let you know, the links at the end aren’t working.

  2. Leah Thorn emailed me this link to her TEDtalk this morning. Thought you might like it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yySZ3p4XnDY

  3. […] Feminism in London 2013 (October 2013)- I wrote about the brilliant feminist conference I attended last […]

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