More than two weeks has passed since the WOW Festival and I had meant to write something before now. Where does time go? I went to a couple of really thought-provoking sessions, one on body positivity and one on the politics and socioeconomics of food and will draw some reflection from those together in a longer post at some point over the next few weeks. But before that I wanted to share a few quick recollections of some things that grabbed my attention and that I think some of you may be interested in.
Foreign Body by Imogen Butler-Cole
This was a really beautiful, powerful and courageous show exploring healing after sexual assault. At times it was hard to remember to breathe. The physical performance was captivating but the power comes in the verbal testimonies from the performer, the perpetrator of one of her assaults and survivors of sexual assault. That the perpetrator was included in the show was both powerful and particularly relevant given the festival had bowed to pressure to remove a session where a speaker was to appear alongside the man who raped her.
Many of us know Emily Rose through Twitter or from Eroticon; as Emily Jacob she runs Reconnected Life and was speaking on the panel after the show. Related to the controversy, she made some really interesting points about the need to involve men who assault women in dialogue, saying it will help break down the misconception that rapists are ‘a mysterious monster in the shadows’ – “they are our neighbours, people we know, perceived pillars of the community, and that needs to be talked about.”
Foreign Body is showing at Hamilton House in Bristol on Friday 31st March and Saturday 1st April if you happen to be in the area.
“Your human rights are our human rights”
In her closing address on the Sunday afternoon Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, Jude Kelly, noted that she was speaking to a room of predominantly white women. She called on us to not just check that privilege but to use it where we can to create change.
This echoed the call to action I had heard in two sessions over the weekend where twice speakers had spoken of how the human rights of Asian communities are ignored in the face of white people’s fears that they would be tiptoeing around cultural practices. “Don’t be afraid to speak out because you’re white, it’s not offending another culture.” said Coco Khan of The Guardian in the Sex and the Subcontinent session, “If you see a friend being bullied or abused, stick up for them. Your human rights are our human rights.” That came on the back of a discussion about a young Asian man who after 13 years in a relationship with another man came out to his family, but was so publically shamed by them he committed suicide.
The day before Jasvinder Sanghera, the founder of Kharma Nirvana which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages, told the audience that in one academic year in one local authority in the north of England 110 girls were removed from the school register to be forced into marriage. The police officer who raised it was disciplined. 110 girls removed from schools to be taken out of the country to be forced into marriage and no action taken.
Be each other’s Wonderbras
Phyllis Lyon had never heard the word lesbian when she became friends with Del Martin in 1950. In 1952 they became lovers. On Valentine’s Day 1953 they moved into an apartment on Castro Street in San Francisco. In 1955 they founded Daughters of Bilitis, the first social and political organisation for lesbians in the US. In the 1960s Betty Friedan, then president of the National Organisation of Women, referenced Daughters of Bilitis when she coined the expression ‘lavender menace’ to describe the threat that she believed lesbian associations posed to the emerging women’s movement.
Another woman we heard about was Ida B Wells, the first black female editor of a newspaper in the US and a civil rights and women’s rights activist. Wells had a long running and public feud with Frances Willard a white suffragist and also dedicated a chapter of her book A Red Record to condemning Willard for using rhetoric that promoted crimes against African Americans in America. Apparently, as recently as 1967 black women were told by white women to walk at the back of feminist marches in the US.
These stories were shared in the Badass Feminists from History session. We learnt that throughout history some of the biggest challenges to the feminist movement has come from other parts of feminist movement. Author Kathy Lette called on us to be each other’s Wonderbras and always support each other. The Pollyanna in me agrees with that. But this piece argues that the intersectionality of issues within the movement means there has always been and will always be ‘infighting’ and that debate and argument are inevitable, healthy and make it stronger. I can see both points.
Both the above stories and 50 more can be found in Modern Women: 52 Pioneers.
Postscript: Lyon and Martin married in June 2008 in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court’s legalised same-sex marriage in California. Martin died three months later.