Saturday, 2 April 2011

What women want. KF late March meet.

Last Wednesday was the second of our 'new style' meetings and the most memorable thing about the event, writing almost a week after it happened, was how wonderfully honest and open our discussions were and how our free flow of ideas helped us give birth to a plan that we're really proud of and really excited about!

To deal with the ideas and issues raised at the last meeting first, it appears that SPUC haven't hit any of our local GPs with their abortion leaflets, so no fight to have there! We'd looked into the possibility of meeting with some of the Nepalese women in our community for conversation classes but their community groups appear to already have tutors in place after the death of a husband whose wife couldn't communicate with emergency services after his collapse. We talked again about becoming a community group for Stop the Traffik. Several attempts to locate the Ashford group who are already working against trafficking have failed after some serious detective work so now we're going to go ahead with our application and see how we get on.

The last 'hanging over' issue we talked about was the issue of the 11-18 night at Liquid but this came out of our long discussion about young women and the particular issues that they are facing in our society and local communities at the moment. I'm not going to try and sum up the conversation but will just say that the wonderful work that Sara does at 'Platform 51' gave Hannah and I some really interesting and worrying insights to the experiences of young women, while Hannah's experiences with children and mums at her primary school helped us discuss both the orgins of low self esteem amongst women and the experiences of young mums today. Our conversation ranged through topics including women's health and well being, the dangerous effect of maistream pornography on young women, the possible antidote of feminist pornography, the financial difficuties being faced by many lone mums and the effectiveness of sex education in schools of dealing with the issues we felt were important for girls today. It was a wonderful discussion in which I felt I learned so much and was able to think through new ideas with women who both challenged and confirmed my own ideas in equal amounts!

Out of our discussion came a more practical idea for an event that we hope to start organising for a weekend late in July. Having looked about at some wonderful websites for a variety of charities supporting women, I'd noticed that what was mostly requested was consciousness and fund raising. As our chosen charity and forum for action is going to be Stop the Traffik we discussed events that might help us support them. The first idea floated was a clothes exchange event. However, having heard Sara talk about a girls' health and well being festival that she recently arranged in Tunbridge Wells for the launch of a magazine she has just edited, aimed at the young women 'Project 51' works with, we started to 'grow' the idea. We're thinking about extending the clothes exchange/fashion idea into an event aimed, at least in part, at women who are trying to return to work but are perhaps lacking confidence in the application procedure. We had lots of ideas about the different skills of women we know who might be able to get involved in offering style advice for interviews, CV writing workshops, interview skills etc - if it sounds like we're talking about you, we probably are so get in touch before we send the girls round! A lot of the ideas we had were inspired by the wonderful women at Working Wardrobe who we're definitely going to sound out for advice. We're hoping to use the event to raise consciousness and money for Stop the Traffik and to raise confidence in as many women as we can get to come along! Let us know what you think!

Finally, we discussed our questions for Any Questions and tabled what we thought were three really stonking questions, predictably none of them got picked on the night! However, Hannah and I really enjoyed attending, especially as the panel consisted entirely of women. The highlight for us was listening to the brilliant Laurie Penny finally giving voice to the experiences, concerns and legitimate anger of the young people who were viciously attacked by the riot squads of the metropolitan police in Trafalgar Square on 26th March, but that's a whole other blog post...

We ended by deciding that we'd have another low key meeting in a month's time and then poster another meeting for the month after. We've been so pleased by the amount of interest being shown by members of our Facebook group and hope that eventually all our diaries will coincide and we'll get to meet you all. Here's to our next meeting!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Kent Feminista March Against the Cuts

We may not have been the biggest group there but last Saturday three of us were really proud to go and represent for those of you who weren't able to make the march but whose sentiments we know were completely with us. We dressed in the suffragette colours, picked up our placards and joined the other hundreds of thousands of marchers who wanted to send a clear message to the government that they are not acting in our name.

I'm totally with Polly Toynbee, every pair of feet counted, even if the BBC and police were reluctant to 'fess up to the true magnitude of the event, preferring to focus on the vocal minority they were relying on to give them the headlines and story that they really want to be heard. But it's too late - we were all there, we know we're not alone in believing that this government are morally bankrupt, self interested and without a genuine popular mandate for their draconian and ideologically driven cuts. The cat is out of the bag and this is just the beginning.

I've already ranted on this blog about what the cuts will mean for women and the Fawcett society are doing a brilliant job at getting the story out there, even though George Osborne is doing a splendid job at ignoring their claims. As the weeks and months go on and the effects of the cuts on women, not just in our fairly well insulated corner of the country but further afield as well, becomes evident, I hope that we will be able to play our part in monitoring where the axe is falling and standing with and for those people who will be worst affected. Just as women came together in the suffragette movement because they saw the rights and needs of women being trampled on, so it is time for us to come together and say that we will not stand for what the government are trying to do to us.

Although I want all comment on the march to be overwhelmingly positive, I just want to take a moment to say how maddened and infuriated I've been by the amount of lazy journalism there has been around the March and the serious arguments being put forward by its organisers. Of course, the media machine's determination to focus on the anarchist action and the wonderfully inventive UK Uncut's non-violent direct action campaigns has been maddening but what I have found more poisonous and lazy has been the repeated claim that no alternatives have been offered. I have heard countless arguments over the last few months about the potential alternatives to the government's program of cuts and while, predictably, my favourite have been around increasing and tightening up taxation in order to pay for services or even the implementation of the Tobin tax, I think the argument that Osborne could have done something much more creative with the money raised from the North sea oil companies is the argument that makes it most apparent that there are alternatives, simply not ones that the government wishes to consider.

Since the march, Vince Cable has confirmed that the fifty pence tax rate on incomes over a hundred and fifty thousand is to be abolished. With Cable saying that it was necessary in an emergency to create a sense of solidarity. Clearly for the government we are at the end rather than the beginning of an emergency, after all, how many of them are really going to be feeling the pain over the next five years and beyond? If this is their response to the march it only confirms why we were right to be there.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

On the Bridge

Earlier this week the girls and I managed to make it up to London for the Women for Women International 'Join us on the Bridge' event that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.

Apart from the obvious advantages of a high profile event that drew attention to the need to recognise the voices of women in Afghanistan and to formally include them in a meaningfully representative way in the peace process, what most impressed me about the event was the wonderful atmosphere that was created by the huge range of women's groups who came together to create a strongly united voice.

We had a wonderful time at the event, gathering in a festival atmosphere in Borough market, all taking white baloons and flags to carry alongside the patchwork of different banners and to release in a joyful moment on Millenium Bridge.

Next year we must find whoever it was that staged a Bridge Event in Canterbury (I only managed to find reference to this event after it was too late) and make sure that we represent this brilliant organisation at a more local level.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Getting Active

Last Wednesday's meeting was our first chance to sit down together and talk about our way ahead and what we wanted to focus on as a group after the end of our successful campaign over improved regulation of lapdancing clubs in Ashford. We met in the Leaf Lounge in Ashford (in comic alignment with another group of ladies getting 'made up' for facebook shots) and were made really welcome by the lovely Cathy and her team.
We talked at length around our own passions and concerns as feminists and ranged over a broad selection of issues. A decision seemed to emerge that rather than selecting a limited range of issues to concentrate on, we would all start our own research into a variety of different actions that we were individually passionate about and that we would report back to the group on whether there was work that could be done in each area by us as a collective.

One of the first concerns raised came from a report from Radio 4s PM program in which a representative from SPUC (the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child) had recently appeared in debate about a controversial leaflet they have distributed to 1,500 doctors' surgeries. The leaflet is called 'Abortion: Your right to know' and is completely untraceable, beyond its front page, on-line. However, Hannah, our resident webwizard, managed to find the notes provided by SPUC for doctors to accompany the leaflet which you can check out here. We spent some time discussing our own attitudes to abortion but were able to agree that an ideologically driven group, promoting risks about abortion that appear to have often very sketchy medical support, were not the best people to be advising women facing the difficult decision of whether an abortion is right for them. As a result Hannah and I are going to take the lead in contacting local surgeries, seeing if we can trace the leaflet there and opening debate with surgeries about whether this leaflet is appropriate for distribution.

Mel talked passionately about her own interest in trying to provide some kind of practical support for women who have suffered abuse or rape and are trying to work their way through the courts. Laura, with her professional knowledge of the problems facing homeless women, was able to bring new understanding to the issue and is going to work with Mel to find out how they can investigate the needs of these women and how we might be able to offer support. Mel spoke about the importance for women facing the court experience to have other impartial women alongside them and hopes to be able to find ways to fill the gaps for support that might exist in the system.

With the approach of the Olympics and the expectation that Ashford might become host to one of the teams we talked about the concerns around increased trafficking that can accompany the expanding demand for the sex industry during these kind of mega events. I'd found a group called Stop the Traffik who are looking for community groups to sign up and work against traffiking in their area. Jo was very interested in the work that we might be able to do alongside Stop the Traffik and has started to look in to how we can affiliate. She has already investigated whether our local Soroptimist group are already involved in this action and should be able to report back on this important issue at the next meeting.

Hannah also raised the point that her school is soon to host an 'Any Questions' program and asked whether anyone had any ideas for questions we'd like posed to the panel. Please contact us if you feel there are any questions you think we should be trying to put forward as a group.

Laura also reminded us that within the community of Nepalese women who are making homes in Ashford there might be a group that we could look to support through offering conversation classes. I plan on contacting our local assosciation as most of us at the meeting felt we could offer time for conversation classes if this was a gap that might need filling. Please contact us if you are local and feel this is something you could offer support with.

We spoke again about the importance of standing in solidarity with the women who will be worst affected by the programs of cuts that we are still watching develop. Hannah and I are planning on attending the TUC organised mammoth protest against the cuts on the 26th March; any feministas who would like to accompany us on this one please get in touch. With the higher proportion of women who are pensioners, Jo reminded us that cuts to services to pensioners such as meals on wheels will be important issues for feminists that we should be watching carefully in our local communities. We are waiting to hear more about ho the cuts will affect us locally... watch this space.

Finally, we had a discussion about the increased pornification of society and discussed our concerns about the particular pressures on young women to adopt dress styles and cultural poses that are commensurate with the desires of the men they wish to attract. We talked about the 'Liquid' night club in Ashford and the 11-18 'club nights' they hold. While we all understood the exciting and important 'frisson' of these events we were concerned about whether this broad age categorising was potentially dangerous and whether it would be exposing younger girls to the potentially predatory advances of older boys. Hannah and I are going to look into how widespread they are and what controls, if any, are in place to protect young women at these events. We all felt that such events should be split into two age groups and want to look at how we can open discussion about whether this would be more appropriate and a possible alternative.

The meeting was invigorating and stimulating and provided a wonderful space in which a broad range of issues and perspectives were considered. We plan to meet again on Wed 30th March to feed back on any progress we've made in investigating these issues and, hopefully, to meet even more feministas. We really hope we might see you there!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Join us on The Bridge

This year Women for Women International are asking women to join together in high profile and home made bridge events to draw attention to the problems faced by Afghan women in their own country  and to show solidarity  with Afghan women’s demand for greater involvement in their country’s peace protests.

Go to  to find out more.

In the early days of asking myself whether I was a feminist and of answering other people, mostly my sixth formers , who told me that feminism was outmoded and no longer relevant,  I remember thinking and saying that even if  feminism’s fight in this country is drawing nearer an end point, that it was dangerous to think that feminism wasn’t desperately needed internationally. I have since been led to understand quite how far from the truth I was about how much feminism was needed in the UK, but I still believe that one of the most important jobs that we can do as feminists is to raise awareness of the particular problems facing women internationally and to stand in solidarity with these women whenever we can.

Women for Women International, with their Bridge Events, are providing an opportunity for us to do exactly that. WWI are an organisation who work to support women who are survivors of war and conflict by helping them in practical ways to move towards self sufficiency through year-long programs of direct aid, rights education, job skills training, and small business development.

This year WWI want to use the media attention harnessed by the International Women’s Day on the 8th March to draw attention to the situation faced by women living in Afghanistan. They have asked us to stand in solidarity with these women in their demand for greater involvement in the peace process that will determine their future and within which they are currently being marginalised.

The focus of this year’s 100th International Women’s Day is the demand to end violence against women so it seems a particularly appropriate time to remind ourselves of the violence being faced by women in Afghanistan. Whether this is to recall the personal and tragic case in which Bibi Aisha, an 18-year-old woman, who was, at the pronouncement of a Taliban commander, held down by her brother in law while her husband sliced off her ears and then cut off her nose ; or the more public tragedy of the murder of Lt-Col Malalai Kakar , Afghanistan’s most prominent policewoman and the Head of the Department of Crimes against Women , by Taliban gunmen in 2008.

Despite the fact that the brutal suppression of women’s rights were cited as part of the reason for military intervention in Afghanistan, it is feared that violence against women is actually on the increase there. Research by Global Rights Afghanistan in 2008 concluded that 87 percent of Afghan women and girls are faced with at least one form of sexual, physical, economic or psychological abuse. Womankind Worldwide have produced disturbing figures showing that 80% of women experience domestic violence,  60% of marriages are forced and 50% of girls marry before they are 16. According to the 2008 Violence Against Women Primary Database Report (UNIFEM) 92% of reported cases of abuse of women and girls is by close family members and other relatives. When they seek recourse from the government they are further molested by the government representatives.

It is unfortunate that women’s day falls on a week day when I know that many of us will need to be in work. In my lucky position as part time teacher, I’m hoping to travel up to the London event with my girls on the 8th. If anyone is able to join us it would be great to travel together and show Kent Feminista’s support for the women of Afghanistan at this important and lively event!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

New Year Feminista

Last Wednesday was the first kentfeminista meeting of the year and I wanted to send a mail out about what was discussed and suggested as there were quite a few people who were unable to make the meeting but who I know are keen that we don’t lose momentum after our pretty impressive first few months together.

Before the meeting it was suggested that we needed to capitalise on our successful campaign around the regulation of lapdancing clubs in Ashford and the great local media coverage that the campaign brought us. However, it was also felt that we needed to talk a little more about how we wanted to define ourself and our aims so that we could be clearer in choosing our next actions. I think that this need for a clearer self definition is becoming more apparent as we have had at least four women, who are hopefully reading this mail, who have contacted us to ask about getting more involved with us.

At the meeting we discussed two main ideas that we would really like some feedback on.

Firstly, that part of the vision in starting the group was to emulate earlier consciousness raising groups that aimed to bring women together to share stories, ideas and experiences. We felt that ideally this group should aim to be as broad and as representative as possible of Kentish women. We felt that an evening week day meeting might not be the best way to encourage busy women along to this group and that we should think about the prospect of also having a bi-monthly Sunday social, aiming to create a laid back, friendly atmosphere with maybe cake, music, books, crafts, kids activities and maybe a bit of a ‘talk’ that could link the event to our current campaigns.

Secondly, we talked about how important it was to have a constant campaigning front and that maybe an additional evening meeting on the month when we don’t have a social, could provide a space for planning the campaign and working out how we can best provide opportunities for women who come to the socials to be engaged with these campaigns. It was felt that the biggest current threat to women in the UK at the moment were the cuts. We discussed joining with women against the cuts (check them out on Facebook) and joining together for the TUC organised march against the cuts on the 26th of March, maybe with our own Kentfeminista banner.

If people like these ideas, then we might want to think about a planning meeting in the second week of February, a Sunday social in the second week of March with a guest speaker on the cuts (Hannah is going to contact Melissa Benn) and the aim to encourage women to march with us at the end of March.

We’d love to hear back from any of you who couldn’t make the meeting about what you think of these plans and whether you could make a meeting on the 9th Febuary for a bit of self definition and planning work.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

A Few Thoughts on Representation of the Female in Art

I've been thinking a lot about the structural ideologies that underpin gender stereotyping.

A good representation of this is through art.

When designing posters for KentFeminista, I was taking images that perceive "femininity" to fade and incorporate into the image.

These were nice graphics that can be incorporated into a hegemonic image, both modern and historic concepts.

However, there are several artists I feel really incorporate ubiquitous femininity in their work.

The first is Salvador Dali.

In particular, I am a big fan of his women-with-drawers concepts.

Not only do they provide a stunning metaphor, but there is the delightful concept of hidden secrets, depths, function and asthetics that comprise within a woman's role.

There are some delightful plays on this concept which combine the metaphors with more traditional images;

This helps to explore and challenge the physical and metaphorical concepts of the female form, and of the gender identity within society.

However, to take this one step further, I think that the metaphorical concepts of gender stereotyping can be explored even more through art.

Marcus Harvey, well known for Britpack Art in the 1990s, manages to truly encompass the one dimensional woman that feminity has become in the 21st century. His work, which borders on pornographic, is of gradiose size and created with great handsweeps of paint, that symbolise the pawing and attention given to the female figure which control and coerce the woman to become a physical object, a commodity and valuable only for image. I would suggest reviewing "Like What You See? Call Me" at the Saatchi Gallery, but it is not work safe and I won't post it on here.

It was probably reviewing modern art in the 1996 Sensations exhibition that really made me question the perceptions of the female form in my teenage years. Suddenly the images of Georgia O Keiffe and Picasso took on a new interpretation in my mind and I began to question these representations of male and female.

Lastly, I would like to refer to another Dali. This sculpture, for me, underpins the true structural ideologies of not only feminism, but the repression of patriarchy and hegemonic relationships established in modern society.

The concept of the maiden, the vulnerable virgin, the commodity of the gold tinted phallus on the unicorn and the truely empowering penetration of time are as symbolic a representation as can be found of the true nature of the relations between the sexes and the embedded nature of gender identity that feminists have fought for years and still not won.