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 #6 – Happy International Women’s Day/ WOW Festival

 

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Happy International Women’s Day!

On this day last year, I contributed a small paragraph to Belle Jar for a collaborative article celebrating International Women’s Day. My contribution explained why Annie Lennox is one of my favourite women. On Friday 6th of March, almost a year later, I saw Annie speak at The Southbank Centre as part of the Women of the World Festival (WOW). I nearly cried. It was 9:30 in the morning, I was overwhelmed with lack of sleep and the realisation that I had seen one of my music/humanitarian icons in the flesh (I will blog/bore you about this in detail, over the next few days).

Today, I am returning to the WOW Festival for the third day in a row. I want to be more articulate, but right now I’ll settle for: ‘THIS HAS BEEN ONE OF THE BEST WEEKENDS OF MY LIFE AND TODAY IS GOING TO BE BRILLIANT!’ I have seen and heard some of the most inspiring and empowering stories, and no amount of blogging will justify their brilliance (but by ‘eck, am I going to try later on).

Also: I sank a delightfully dry bottle of white wine last night, and have lived to tell the tale headache free. This post, therefore, qualifies for the SUNDAY category.

(Image courtesy of groupthink.jezebel.com)

Malala Yousafzai’s Speech at The Southbank Centre

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Last night my friend and I caught the train to London to see one of the most inspirational people in the world: Malala Yousafzai. Malala was propelled in to the media spotlight in 2012 when she was shot in the face, on a school bus, in front of her friends by the Taliban. Her crime? Campaigning for girls educational rights in Pakistan. She was fifteen years old.

Since this horrific ordeal, Malala has had to move to Birmingham where she received life-saving hospital treatment, because it is simply too dangerous for her to return to her native country. Despite such life-altering circumstances, she still campaigns with immense tenacity for girls educational rights. It may sounds cliché, but what hasn’t killed her has indeed made her stronger.

Last night Malala spoke to Jude Kelly, The Southbank’s Centre’s artistic director, for forty minutes about her life before and after that awful day in 2012. They were very strict about the time schedule, as Malala and her family had to drive back to Birmingham so that she could still attend school in the morning. How many other sixteen year old girls hold cultural discussions on a Sunday night? I spent the whole forty minutes in awe of this girl, so dedicated to education and so loyal to her country and to our country too. It is difficult to articulate just how informed, charismatic and actually, how funny she is.

These are just some of the many insightful things she said:

“If you have a gun, you do not have power. All you can do is kill someone. If you have a pen, you have power. You can learn and teach others to learn to. That is the real power.”

“Instead of sending guns to struggling countries, we should send pens. Instead of sending bombs, we should send books. And instead of sending soldiers, we should send teachers.”

“Our countries should be competing, but not for who has the most weapons, or who has an atomic bomb. Compete for who has the highest literacy rates and the most educated children.”

When an audience member asked her how she dealt with criticism (ranging from misogynist attitudes to people believing she ‘staged’ the shooting she was a victim of) she replied that she could deal with them criticising and not supporting her, as long as they still supported educational rights for girls. I find it impossible to believe that anyone has ever doubted her. Even if you are cynical of the way she is represented by our media, even if you think she is too young to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, you cannot deny that she is an inspiration to women and to men around the globe, and that what she is advocating is immensely important and worthy.

Sylvia Plath’s ‘Ariel’ at The Southbank Centre

Sylvia Plath is one of my favourite writers. I own the ‘restored edition’ of her poetry collection Ariel, which has an introduction from her daughter, Frieda Hughes. It’s a wonderful edition because it includes photocopies of Sylvia’s original manuscript, complete with hand-written notes. I enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoy reading it. It was this edition that was read out by thirty-nine (there are forty poems, keep reading to understand why there’s one short) different actresses, poets and academics at The Southbank Centre on Sunday 26th May. The evening was a celebration of Plath’s work, and part of The London literature Festival.

Frieda introduced the evening with a reserved yet highly emotive speech. I thought she showed incredible bravery discussing her Mother in front of a theatre-full of strangers, something she has, no doubt, had to grow accustomed too. It felt strange to be looking at her and listening to her, knowing she is Plath’s own flesh and blood. Most of my favourite authors are from the nineteenth century, so they have no immediate surviving family. Listening to, and looking at Frieda deliver her speech was an experience I can’t really describe; all I can say is that the impression she left will resonate in my memory every time I pick up Plath’s work from now on.

The reading began. I feel ignorant when I admit that I didn’t know the names of most of the women who stepped up to read, but I can say that they were all excellent. Their articulation and interpretations of Plath’s words were nerve-shreddingly brilliant. The two stand-out performances however, were Emily Bruni’s reading of Lady Lazarus and Juliet Stevenson’s reading of Tulips. I know the poems themselves are incredibly revealing, intimate and tainted with anger and sadness, but when they were read aloud by these two actresses; something seemed to make the air anticipate and the crowd quieten. Their interpretations were flawless.

The presentation is also the first time I have ever heard a recording of Sylvia Plath’s voice (She was the aforementioned fortieth speaker). I have always avoided it because to be quite frank, the idea of her being a real person with a real voice scared me. I prefer to keep Plath on the paper because I feel I can distance myself from her if I start to find her recollections of pain, and confusion frighteningly relatable. The idea of hearing her actual voice would mean that every instance of pain she ever recorded on paper would be cemented in to my reality. I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious; I certainly don’t hold this view anymore. The lights were dimmed in the theatre, Sylvia’s photograph was projected on to a screen and her recording of Daddy was played. She didn’t sound how I thought she would; her voice was strangely comforting and maternal, yet at the same time it was cold and authoritative. It nearly brought me to tears.

Once the final poem had been read, the audience erupted in applause. The whole evening felt like such a unique and special thing to be part of; and I’m glad I was lucky enough to get tickets.