Personal Highlights of 2017 (aka more musical ones…)

You’re probably sick to death of these ‘Highlights’ blogs, but I love making lists and reminiscing…so get on board, or get over it.

I spend 99% of my time listening to, looking for, and writing lovely things about women in new music, but – contrary to popular belief – I love writing about men in new music too. WHAT?! A FEMINIST WHO LOVES MEN?! SHOCKING! *keels over from this unexpected revelation*

2017 was a turbulent and frightening year (and I’m not just talking about my Glandular Fever diagnosis), but it would’ve been far worse if I hadn’t discovered these bands/artists. So, if you want a quick distraction before you wave goodbye to 2017 soaked in gin and your own bitter tears, take a look at the musical offerings that made my 2017 so bleedin’ good…

Everything Twitcher Records released this year melted my mind.

The independent label based in Brighton has a penchant for all things strung-out and unsatisfied, and I smiled like the Grinch who stole Christmas each time an email holding precious musical cargo appeared at the top of my inbox.

If you’re in to scratchy guitars, delightfully droning vocals, and introspective lyrics, you need to check out the bands on their roster. It was hard for me to pick a favourite, but I listened to Collapse Of An Easy Sunday, the debut EP from the weird and wonderful Honey Creeper multiple times when I was hungover/bored at work. Check out Ezeikel Doo, Slabtoe., and Die Mauer too.

Wolf Alice’s ‘Yuk Foo’ was one of the first pieces of new music I heard after my 21-day-Glandular-Fever headache finally subsided.

I’ll never forget the sheer sense of simultaneous joy and relief I felt hearing Ellie Rowsell shout the words “you bore me to death!” the first time I heard this song. It’s since become a personal anthem.

Don’t think I’ve mentioned a band called Ho99o9 before? (LOL JK. seen them 5 times this year)

My anticipation for their album United States of Horror was palpable, and it sparked what most people would deem a borderline inappropriate obsession with the rap-punk duo. Their political, aggressive, racially charged lyrics align perfectly with the manic drums and thrashing guitar samples.

Each time I’ve seen them live I’ve emerged with all sorts of physical damage – a black eye, swollen knees, bruised hips, ripped fingernails – and I left their Sebright Arms gig topless. What can I say? They bring out the be(a)st in me.

(Ho99o9 also led me to find Bob Vylan, who is 10/10)

I listened to Bjork’s divine new album Utopia, thus keeping my 2016 New Years Resolution to “listen to more Bjork“.

NO, YOU’RE CRYING AT THE BEAUTY OF ‘The Gate’. PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER. FFS.

We launched the Get In Her Ears website alongside our radio show and live night, and it might just be the best thing we’ve ever done.

On the eve of the launch of the Get In Her Ears site, there was a part of me that felt genuinely concerned. What if people didn’t read the blog? What if no-one shared the link? Have we made a mistake branching out on our own? Fortunately, I’m glad to report all of these anxieties subsided within 24 hours. We’ve received so much interest, love, and support from bands and fellow journalists, that it’s wiped away all the doubts I ever had.

I hope 2018 is just as prosperous and proactive for us.

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SUNDAY #56 – My Kind Of Woman

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Bernard, if you could lend me your magical time-stopping watch, I’d really appreciate it mate. It’s been a hectic few days.

I’ve been at WOW (Women Of The World Festival) this weekend, and I wish I had more time to tell you all how incredible it’s been; but I’ll resort to a few bullet points about my favourite events for the sake of efficiency:

  • Annie Lennox is an inspirational activist, and my Mum & I saw her in conversation with Jude Kelly last night at Royal Festival Hall.
  • The Body Politic was a fascinating discussion which encouraged women to challenge the  social construct of ‘beauty’.
  • ‘Stop Touching My Hair’ was an insightful discussion about black feminisms, and the growing need for intersectional feminism.
  • Vian Dakhil, the only Yazidi MP in the Iraqi Parliament, appealed to the audience to help end the genocidal, systematic raping of Yazidi women and girls.

Whilst many of the conversations were painful to listen to, the number of listeners and the inclusive atmosphere made everything easier to process; and action to end this inequality was vehemently encouraged outside of WOW’s walls.

Earlier in the week, International Women’s Day was both celebrated and criticised in equal measure on my social media newsfeed. I spent a large part of my time in defensive discussions about why we still need one day in the calendar to celebrate and encourage women to get to where they want to be. I won’t carry on this ‘defensive discussion’, because  once again, WOW has proved to me there are like-minded individuals – female and male – who acknowledge the importance of events and days directly aimed at celebrating and challenging issues which still affect women on both a personal, and global scale.

Sometimes you have to dull the questioning voices of others, and the ever prevalent voices of self doubt in your own mind. I’ve discovered that listening to Mac Demarco’s ‘My Kind Of Woman’ is a sensational way to ease anxiety. Mac’s referring to women in a romantic sense in his song (whatta babe), but I’ve been singing it to myself in a platonic way, and to borrow a term from Emma Jane Unsworth (author of the amazing Animals)‘self-seducing’ myself as a reminder that I need to love myself, as well as the other women (and men) in my life. Look after each other, and chuck ‘My Kind Of Woman’ on whenever the doubt gets too much.

SUNDAY #53 -UEA ‘War Of Words’ Speech

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UEA hosted their first progressive media conference yesterday, entitled ‘War Of Words’. I cautiously/gratefully accepted their invitation to speak alongside Sophie Van Der Ham (Young Greens Co-Chair) and Tori Cann (UEA Lecturer from Norwich Feminist Network) on a panel discussing ‘Women, Politics and the Media’, chaired by Asia Patel. I’d been invited on behalf of Belle Jar, an online magazine I began writing for in 2012.

Although I perform in front of audiences in improvised comedy shows, I find public speaking a bit of a nerve shredder. Fortunately, both the panel and the audience were clued-up and compassionate; so it was an intense but incredible 60 minutes of discussion and debate. Tori, Sophie, and I spoke about female politicians, the lack of respect for female voices in the media, and my personal favourite; female anger. The post-debate adrenaline has flushed my memories away, but I wanted to share the speech I prepared (and nearly screwed up multiple times whilst reading aloud).

I urge you to follow Belle Jar, The Norwich Radical, Tori and Sophie on Twitter too!

*** For those who prefer pictures to words, Antony Carpen kindly recorded the speech. Video is at the end of the blog!***

“I would not be here at this event today without the encouragement, enthusiasm, and efforts of other women. I am speaking on behalf of Belle Jar; an online publication created in 2012 by two university students, Louisa Ackermann and Juliette Cule.

Louisa & Juliette created Belle Jar to provide a safe online platform for feminist discussion and debate. Belle Jar exists to inform and inspire; covering the humorous to the humanitarian. The magazine has 2,716 likes on Facebook, and 1,921 followers on Twitter. The site was also nominated for a Guardian Student Media Award, and was the only publication of its kind to be considered in the student website category. As a team, we have been to The Houses of Parliament to discuss issues surrounding the representation of women in the media, and our website continues to publish news updates and articles which seek to inform and challenge our readers.

But Belle Jar is more than a website; it is a support system; a network of voices that work together to help counteract the misogyny which dominates the national media, and impacts our everyday lives. When I submitted my first article to the site in 2012, I had no idea it would bring me to this stage today. Without the internet, I may not have found Belle Jar. Without Belle Jar, I would not have found Louisa or Juliette who have given me the courage to use my voice here today.

I believe in the power of small stories; they are crucial to the structure of larger narratives. My small story is that I used to fear the potential in my own voice. As a teenage girl, I was forever anxious about its volume and its content to the point where I rarely spoke up in school, the playground; anywhere. When Louisa & Juliette suggested I speak at UEA today, my initial reaction was “I’m not qualified for that, I can’t” – Juliette kindly told me not to listen to my imposter syndrome, to go, use my voice, and spread my story. This is the encouragement many young women are lacking in their teens and early twenties. No-one is saying “Go for it, learn as you go!” – instead, it feels like they’re whispering “You’re a girl, what do you know?”

Like many young women, I hesitated when I initially began identifying with feminism. It was intimidating; a movement with an extensive and difficult history which people often told me had ‘gone too far’. It’s easy to believe these things when there’s an absence of support, or no voices offering you an alternative outlook. Fortunately, through social media I found a corner of the internet where girls and women were having similar kinds of experiences. They were being open about their anxieties by speaking about personal experiences of sexism on the internet. Juliette affectionately dubbed Belle Jar as ‘baby feminism’ – a place where those who are at the start of their interactions with the movement can read, discuss, and write about what it means to them. This kind of interaction is essential for modern girls and women. It keeps us connected, inspired and most importantly; comforted in a world where misogyny overshadows many of our attempts to assert ourselves.

To quote Jude Kelly, (Arrtistic Director at The Southbank Centre & founder of the annual Women Of The World Festival); the media is “amoral at best, or immoral at worst, with regards to women”. Women’s appearances, achievements, and mere existences are often undermined by journalists and editors. Just last week, The Sun Newspaper reported the alleged rape of deceased soldier Cheryl James as a ‘romp’, and insulted her death by branding her a ‘Suicide army girl’. Once my initial disgust had subsided, I shared the post on Belle Jar’s Facebook page, and Juliette posted a link to the The Independent Press Standards Organisation website, so our readers could complain about this insulting attempt at journalism. The speed at which social media allows people to distribute information, and act on issues such as this is incredible, and Belle Jar and other publications like it utilise this tool effectively.

It’s easy to dismiss efforts like this as acts of ‘keyboard warfare’ and reduce them down to ‘trying to look like we’re doing good’ without actively striving to change women’s representation in the media. Even small publications like Belle Jar are not free from critics and trolls. We have been labelled ‘anti-men’ and I have personally been branded both a ‘superficial little girl’ and a ‘dumb chick cunt’. Internet abuse is equally as real and damaging as street harassment, and women on the internet are subject to higher levels of vitriol in comparison to men. Louisa, Juliette & I went to an event about ‘Outspoken Women’ with featured classicist Mary Beard, and journalist Laurie Penny. Mary said she found the internet ‘revelatory’ because it exposed the pre-existing misogyny inherent in society, and Laurie dubbed modern women’s online opinions as ‘the mini-skirt of the internet.’

Being an outspoken internet feminist can be both confusing and exhausting; but there is so much to support, and so many supporters who are ready to incite change, that you don’t have to apply yourself to every area of the movement. There is no such thing as a perfect feminist. As women, we are taught from a young age to burden ourselves with the responsibilities of others. Whilst compassion is not to be discouraged, it also leaves us little time to explore our own ideas and develop our own beliefs. Feminist scholars and activists have repeated the phrase ‘the personal is the political’ and it is an essential thing to remember whenever you feel that sexism is undermining or devaluing your opinion.

Belle Jar gave me the support I needed in my early twenties when I was starting to engage with feminism and its goals. It was my spring board in to politics, and introduced me to the issues surrounding abortion, FGM, Sex Education, and street harassment. In the introduction to Laura Bates’ ‘Everyday Sexism’ Sarah Brown writes that “Girls who read, lead.” I began reading Belle Jar articles, which then led me to contribute ideas of my own to the site. I stand before you now as a representative for the magazine, and a friend of its fearless and dedicated creators.

Something as simple as reading an article on the internet can set you on a path of discovery and empowerment. Belle Jar are always looking for new writers, and welcome all kinds of contributions. Please get in touch, and if anyone would like one of our sassy business cards; feel free to come and see me at the end of this discussion.”

SUNDAY #21 – Collaborating

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(October, Halloween, 2014)

I first met Freya in a night-club on Halloween. I was made-up as a zombie suffragette, and I stumbled in to her and her friends at the bar. They kindly complimented my ensemble and told me I should’ve won the prize for best costume. Unfortunately, that crown had already been bestowed on the head of a man dressed as a giant sanitary towel. To this day, that irony hurts more than the worst menstrual cramp.

Freya & I got chatting. She told me she’d never been to the area clubbing before, but she was having a good time, even though she was designated driver. I probably mumbled some drunken nonsense about a) people stealing my hat, and b) how I loved the walls of the watering hole we were both in. We went our separate ways after taking each other’s Facebook names, and I woke up the next day looking like death (I still had all my zombie make-up on, which frightened the life out of my friend in daylight).

After I’d recovered from the vodka-based anarchy of the previous evening, I went online to find that Freya had messaged me. She asked the usual ‘How are you? How’s the hangover?’ before revealing the unusual: ‘I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m transgender. I just like to let people know, to be sure they’re ok with it’.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised by Freya’s message, but I genuinely hadn’t realised she was a transgender girl when I met her. I thought she was just a girl in a club on Halloween, wearing devil horns. She felt comfortable enough to tell me details about her transition, and all I could think was ‘good for her’. It’s hard enough trying to be yourself in a county/country that is obsessed with the way women look, let alone trying to be yourself when you feel you’re trapped in the wrong gender.

Up until this point, I had never met anyone, male or female, who identified as being transgender, but I knew it wasn’t something which bothered me in the slightest. ‘Live and let live’ – as my Mum reminds me – and that was my thought process when Freya bravely told me about her situation.

Later in the evening, she uploaded a vlog about her night out. I watched it, and I was humbled beyond words when she mentioned how meeting me had brought up a lot of conflicted, but good feelings for her. You can watch the video below (she’s quite the Youtube star these days!)

Since October 2014, we have kept in touch through emails and messages with the intention of meeting up in person to talk over coffee. Unfortunately, due to studying/work schedules/location/other issues, this hasn’t been a possibility (but it’s still in the pipeline and that’s what counts!)

Through messages and watching her vlogs, I learned that Freya also suffers with Bipolar Disorder and is on the autistic spectrum. I sympathise immensely with her struggles, and celebrate her victories whenever she shares them with me. This is why I was so flattered when she asked to record my blog entries as part of a new podcast series for her Youtube channel. She said reading my entries aloud helped her to practice feminising her voice, as well as introducing her followers to a female/feminist perspective on art, culture, and life in general (I’m definitely not the best critic on any of these subjects, but it’s kind of her to consider me in this light).

Freya’s offer was too good to refuse, and she’s already recorded several of my blog entries. They’re released every day, 8:00am, on her Youtube channel (click here to watch & subscribe). I’m grateful that she took the time to read, record, and enjoy them. I look forward to more of her vlogs, and that cup of coffee we still need to drink! Listen to our first podcast below:

SUNDAY #14 – VOTE

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‘What’s the point? They’re all as bad as each other’

‘I can’t vote for Cameron/Milliband/Farage – the man looks like a moron’

‘It doesn’t make any difference’

I wish I could be as apathetic as the people who say these things about our government, but I nearly expired with rage typing out the quotes above this sentence. Fortunately, I come from a family that is unlikely to feel the brutal impact of a change in government, but I’m not naive enough to pretend that my circumstances could change at any moment. When you get to the polling station on 7th May this week, remember that you need empathy, not apathy when it comes to politics.

This post will divide and anger people, but I’m tired of hearing/seeing people pretend not voting in this election is a) right, b) cool, c) anarchic. Here are three reasons why I think you should vote in the General Elections on May 7th:

  1. Regardless of how much you know about politics, you can still make an informed decision about who to vote for.

I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of politics, I never have. I vote, I’ve written to my MP about feminist issues and I’ve signed online petitions.When I do decide to take an interest, it’s not difficult to find the policies of each party; they are currently everywhere. They’re arriving in leaflets through the letterbox, they’re being discussed on the news, and they’re being parodied on the internet. My research has been limited (and I’ve used this brilliant survey tool to see which policies I agree with), but you can easily make a decision about who to vote for without inducing a mind-numbing headache.

  1. Choosing not to vote ‘because it won’t make a difference’ is a) mad and b) stupid.

Bold words there, but hear me out.

I’m a fan of Russell Brand, I’ve seen his stand-up and applaud his attempts to re-form his sexist ways; but I don’t applaud the way he promotes apathy when it comes to voting. Brand says it’s ‘frustration’ not apathy, that leads to people not voting, but the only way to vent frustration is to act on it (which in this case means VOTE). It’s dangerous to become apathetic to something as important and influential as government. Every vote matters. You’re mad to think differently.

  1. As a young woman, it is important to remember how hard other women fought to give me the right to vote.

Men have been having their say for centuries, unlike women who were only granted the right to vote 87 years ago in 1928 (before this in 1918, only women householders over the age of 30 could vote). That’s nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Remember all the women who were abused, beaten, starved, and killed because they wanted their opinions to matter. Together, men and women can change our government; and it all starts with a vote on May 7th.

*Also, if you’re lacking motivation to get to the polling station, just cram this in your ears on the journey there:

(Image Courtesy of: http://www.diabetes.org.uk/Global/get-involved/campaigns/vote_1563949c.jpg)

WOW – Women of the World Festival 2015

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‘Our life experience – that’s our expertise’ – Jude Kelly

I have so much to say about my experience at The Women of the World Festival this weekend, but in the interest of a) getting some sleep, b) catching up with university work, and c) making up for the meals I had to skip; I’ve tried to be as brief as possible (although condensing it down feels like extinguishing an already exploding firework).

The Women of the World Festival (WOW) was founded five years ago by Jude Kelly, the artistic director of The Southbank Centre. It is designed to champion the artistry, activism and achievements of women from all walks of life. I had previously attended stand alone events, but I had never attended the entire weekend. This year, I felt it was time to immerse myself in to everything the Festival had to offer.

(Before I forget: editor, friend, and all round excellent human, Louisa, spoke at the Cambridge WOW festival on Sunday about the creation of the Belle Jar website. Read her blog here!)

On Friday 6th March at 9:30am, Jude Kelly opened the festival by reminding us even if we don’t consider ourselves to be activists, by turning up to WOW; we had become active in the campaign for gender equality. She then began the festivities with the first event: ANNIE LENNOX IN CONVERSATION. I was so excited to see Lennox speak, that I arrived 30 minutes before the Southbank Centre opened. Turns out, ‘Sweet Dreams’ are made of £2.50 cappuccinos, a lot of patience, and thorough time keeping.

Lennox joked that when she was younger she thought she couldn’t be a feminist because she was ‘too vain’. She wanted to be aligned with the cause, but often felt intimidated and ‘not good enough’ because she enjoyed expressing herself by wearing make-up and high heels. What a relief it was to hear someone, who I regard as beacon of hope and power, admit that they too had experienced anxiety about their own place within a feminist world. Jude Kelly kindly pointed out this was a typical reaction from young women to feminism, and arguments which state feminists shouldn’t wear make-up, or be feminine, are an irrelevant distraction from the true feminist cause: to gain equality.

Lennox opened up about her personal life, and shared her belief that women naturally feel a lot of pain, emotionally and physically. She revealed her first experience of motherhood – giving birth to a still-born son – was the ultimate combination of these two types of pain. I felt a terrible urge to cry when she said this. What stopped my tear ducts from leaking, however, was the way she explained what this personal tragedy had taught her.

It had opened her eyes to the tragedy of every day life, and cemented her own personal belief that she must help, she must make a difference to women in a less fortunate situation. She channelled her pain in to activism, and as a result she raised immense funds and awareness around the issues of poverty, HIV and AIDS. Jude Kelly summarised Lennox’s outlook beautifully:

‘You must realise your own potential, then you can open doors for other people.’

Feeling high on life after hearing Annie Lennox share her experience and insight, I stayed to watch Jude Kelly chair the BLURRED LINES discussion with news presenter Kirsty Wark, journalist Hannah Pool and BBC Newsnight editor Ian Katz. Their discussion considered the impact of misogynist behaviour on the internet, and how women in the public eye are generally trolled, and criticised more violently than men. The debate also highlighted the Campaign4Consent, which was set up by seventeen year old school girl Lily and her friends, in order to get the issue of consent on to the UK school curriculum.

In the queue for the next event, WOW QUESTION TIME, I met another girl who had come to WOW by herself. We struck up a conversation, and after introducing ourselves properly, realised we shared the same first name (Kate, not Bob). I don’t usually buy in to the fate/mystical universe thing; but I’ll admit that meeting another Kate at an event which made me want to burst with feminist glee is pretty cosmic. Unfortunately, due to excessive interest, we didn’t get in to the event, so we attended a discussion entitled THE WOMEN WE LEAVE BEHIND instead.

This conversation centred around the women and girls who live in countries where western foreign policy, interventions, and civil unrest are consistently detrimental to women’s rights. The insight of panellist Feruz Werede, a human rights activist, was particularly poignant. She spoke about the human rights abuses that are affecting women and girls in Eritrea, the country where she was born. This abuse includes trafficking of girls and women, and harvesting their organs for sale. I felt wretched with ignorance. Why wasn’t this being reported in the international media? Was anyone trying to help these women? Feruz explained that Eritrea’s laws and government are intensely secretive, and getting aid in and out of the country is not always possible. Fortunately, organisations like Equality Now are trying to put activism and legislation together, in order to help the women and girls who face atrocities like this, and to bring closer attention to the global issue of violence against women both at home, and abroad.

‘Often, the media is amoral at best, or immoral at worst, with regards to women’ – Jude Kelly

The next events on my agenda were about WOMEN IN JOURNALISM (which bestowed me with a FREE goodie bag) and HOW TO WIN AT B/VLOGGING. It was after these events that I realised it was almost 4pm, and I hadn’t eaten since 7am. I nearly passed out from the shock of skipping lunch. In the 30 minute intervals between events, I had only managed to scoff a few cappuccinos, and a sneaky Snickers (Yes, I eat the chocolate that advertising companies aim at male audiences, because I’m BREAKING GENDER BOUNDARIES – and I love peanuts). Ultimately, I got so desperate for food, that I paid an excessive amount of money for exquisitely toasted bread, and delightfully seasoned fungi (aka mushrooms on toast). Note to self: Next year, bring a shit tonne of snacks.

After a hasty dinner, I concluded my first day at WOW back in the hub with Jude Kelly, who was interviewing broadcaster Lauren Laverne and HSBC’s most senior lawyer, Sandie Okoro. I enjoyed Lauren’s stories of being in a band, and trying to ignore sexism in the music industry by cracking jokes, and thinking of herself as Iggy Pop. Sandie Okoro revealed that when she was seven, she told her school teacher she wanted to be a judge and the teacher cruelly replied: ‘little black girls from Balham don’t become judges’. Okoro urged the audience to ‘Think big. Ambition is free’, and her own advancement in the legal business has proved this. I left the Southbank Centre feeling full of potential.

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After spending Friday night boring my sisters to death about everything I’d seen in my first 24 hours of festivities, I awoke on Saturday 7th March full of fire, and ready for another day at WOW. I attended the MAN UP OR MAN DOWN workshop, which discussed sexist language and how to combat it. As well as being informative, the banter was top notch. The girls and women in my group were laid back and supportive. I didn’t feel judged or like I’d ‘got it wrong’ – a notion which many of the speakers addressed when they were speaking about female potential. They were keen to remind us that this is how patriarchy encourages women to feel – and that even acting as an equal often feels like ‘misbehaving’ (Jude Kelly).

I flew from one language based event to another: HOW TO GET PUBLISHED, chaired by author, founder of The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and all round literary hero, Kate Mosse. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project was also involved in Mosse’s talk, and both women provided fascinating and useful insight in to writing and publishing both non-fiction, and fiction books. Mosse urged us to claim the title of ‘writer’ regardless of a publishing deal, and to write every day, to work at it, to normalise it; to make it less intimidating. Female perspectives and female stories are important, and the job of the female (or male) writer is to have their ‘eyes down, on the page’, sharing those personal experiences.

Next on my agenda was a CONSENT WORKSHOP, which was introduced by Laura Bates, before being led by Susuana Antubam, the National Women’s Officer for NUS. Susuana spoke about the I Heart Consent campaign which she is currently running in universities and colleges, and we had group discussions about the true definition of consent, and the numerous issues surrounding rape culture.

When I was at school (only 6/7 years ago), no-one was talking about the issues of consent in sex education. I learnt about the biology of sex – but that was it. It seems ridiculous that I didn’t know I could say ‘No’, and not have to justify myself. I discussed this with two girls in my group who were studying for their GCSEs, and I spoke to a woman who was attending the workshop so she would be able to give this information to her grand-daughter. The workshop  solidified my belief that women are now feeling brave enough to say ‘no’.

I wanted to stay for the evening Self Defence Class, but after skipping more meals in order to attend the maximum amount of events; I bailed, got the train home, cooked a steak, and sank a bottle of wine.

On Sunday 8th March, I awoke with that fiery excitement still burning inside me (and without a hang-over!) and gunned it back to The Southbank. It was International Women’s Day, so everything felt like it had an extra-feminist edge. I went to EMILY DICKINSON: PRESENTED BY POET IN THE CITY, which involved a panel discussion about Dickinson’s poetry, and live readings of selected poems from the glorious Juliet Stevenson. I briefly met with my friend and fellow Belle Jar writer, Juliette, before she went to THE EDUCATION EMERGENCY event and I attended the BEING A MAN talk.

The panel included poet Anthony Anaxagorou, writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun, psychotherapist John McKeown, and artistic director of The Red Room, Topher Campbell. They spoke about the aversion to emotion that is encouraged within masculinity, and patriarchal culture, and the way this damages men and boys of all different ethnicities and sexual orientations. Whilst there were no concrete conclusions on how to solve negative, inherited masculine attitudes; the efforts of the panellists in their professional and personal lives, were encouraging and uplifting.

I made my way to The Queen Elizabeth Hall to see YOU’VE BEEN FRAMED, a discussion about WOMEN’S MENTAL HEALTH. This was the most revelatory discussion of the weekend. Artist Bobby Baker, and Chair of National Hearing Voices Network, Jacqui Dillon, spoke at length about their personal experiences of being diagnosed with mental illness. Whilst both women were inspirational, I found Jacqui’s story particularly poignant. Jacqui was born in to a family that associated with a paedophile ring, and consequently, suffered sexual abuse from an extremely young age. When she reached her twenties and decided to seek professional help, but she was told by psychiatrists she was ‘psychotic’, and had imagined the abuse. They refused to accept Jacqui’s psychosis was a natural reaction to intense, and prolonged trauma.

Fortunately, Jacqui eventually found professionals who were willing to accept the truth; which is why she is now able to tell her story to strangers like me. Jacqui and Bobby’s discussion highlighted something crucial: psychiatrists and societies often re-frame people’s natural responses to trauma, and diagnose them as mental illness. They pathologise or medicalise natural reactions. They don’t always consider the social context may be the true issue which needs addressing, not the reaction of the individual.

My weekend at WOW was coming to a close, so I took a seat at the final discussion and caught up with Juliette again. The discussion came in two parts, firstly, Jude Kelly offered her thoughts on the subject WHY WOMEN STAY. We stay, quite simply, because there is nowhere else to go. Women across the globe are immobilised in so many ways. In her introduction to Laura Bates’ book Everyday Sexism, Sarah Brown states that ‘women who lead, read’. Two thirds of the world’s women can’t read – how can they be expected to get anywhere without a basic education? Jude Kelly urged us to keep calling out sexism, to keep being exhausted and irritating in our own circles, because the world is slowly starting to realise that empowering women, means empowering the world.

The second part of the discussion, entitled FUTURE FEMALE: THE ECONOMIC CASE FOR GENDER EQUALITY ACROSS THE GLOBE, featured a live Skype session with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and a further discussion with Jude Kelly and BBC Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney. Christine insisted gender equality matters so much, because it makes economic sense. She also raised the following point:

‘We used to be called the fair sex, but for the fair sex, it’s a very unfair situation’.

This unfair situation was then addressed by campaigner Eloise Todd, who was promoting the newly launched Poverty is Sexist Campaign. This is one of the many organisations dedicated to improving women and girl’s economic independence across the globe. Finally, Christine answered Gemma’s question: What three pieces of advice would you give to your twenty-five year old self? Christine’s reply was simple:

  1. Grit your teeth and smile.
  2. Don’t let the bastards get you down.
  3. If you’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t work, leave; they don’t deserve you.

The applause at the end of the discussion was deafening, and I was both elated and exhausted to have been witness to such a glorious Festival.

I’ve spent the last two days typing out just a fraction of what I encountered this weekend at WOW. Some of you might be wondering: ‘Err, why?’ Well, this weekend has proved to me there is an immense power behind the sharing of personal experience, the sharing of statistics and information, and the sharing of art and creativity. Whether this is shared in the form of debate, lectures, or a bit of banter; I believe by spreading the word, signing the petitions, and documenting the speeches; we can help alter negative perspectives on feminism.

The power of the individual story is only as powerful as the individuals who listen to, and re-tell that story. That’s what my weekend at WOW helped to re-enforce. I’m already looking forward to next year (and I’m definitely not paying fifteen quid for fungi avec wheat ever again).

P.S. For anyone who wants to hate on this by saying ‘Women get their own Festival, what about men?!’ – You can attend the Being a Man Festival (BAM) later in the year. Give me a shout when you do, I’d like to come with!

P.P.S. This post is definitely the opposite of brief. Oops.