March is known as Women’s History Month, and girl, do we have SOME history. For the past three years I have spent the weekend of International Women’s Day at the Women of the World festival in London’s Southbank centre, and it has no competition in being my favourite event of the year. The festival was set up by the Southbank centre’s artistic director Jude Kelly in 2010 and now takes place across the world, from all the way in Australia to just a train ride away in Bradford, the event will be taking place in 53 countries next year! In the interest of continually learning about the challenges women face across the globe and the badass things they can achieve in the face of these struggles, the event hosts some of the most inspiring, educational and down-right necessary conversations between writers, academics and up-and-coming activists. In the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world, the WOW festival creates a space to celebrate the multitude of ‘womanhoods’ that are being lived out every day. Whilst it’s impossible to attend every event on the festival’s calendar, I managed to sit through some of the best on offer. In the interest of feminist wisdom, and passing on the tradition of attending this event (you won’t regret it), here’s a bite size review of what went down.
‘Why I’m no longer talking to White people about race’ – In June, writer Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book of the same title as this talk is being published, and at WOW she gave a glimpse into the motivations and content of her work. In taking questions from the audience and reading passages of her new book, Reni shared the many ways in which she has experienced discrimination and been seen in social and professional environments as a ‘spokeswoman’ for a perceived ‘universal experience’ of being a Black woman. The book is in part a message for people to educate themselves on the experiences of others, whether that be through writers they have never read before or by going out in the world ‘and becoming friends with people who don’t look like you’. The talk revealed that while the experiences of black women are beginning to move to the centre of feminist debates, conversations around race are still led by white voices – which is why we should all pre-order Reni’s book!
‘OPEN: A Toolkit for How Magic Messed Up Life Can Be’ – On Saturday I listened to a conversation between Lauren Laverne, Radio DJ and founder of ‘The Pool’, and Gemma Cairney, Radio1 DJ and now an author. During the talk, Gemma spoke about writing her new book ‘Open’ after working with young girls and women and seeing the new challenges being faced when growing up in the 21st century. Inspired by ‘fanzines’ made by feminist groups, Gemma said her book is meant to be ‘like a friend’ for girls whenever and whatever they need from it. From social media addictions to issues of mental health, the talk between these two epic women covered all the bases of growing up in this ‘messed up’ world.
‘Gender Revolution?’ – Social media and newspapers often imply that we have undergone a ‘revolution’, whether that be the tired claim that ‘we have equality now’, or that gender isn’t as important as it used to be. Listening to this panel discussion, made up of people such as Transgender British Soldier Hannah Winterbourne and ‘Boy meets Girl’ star and Trans actress Rebecca Roote, revealed the many reasons we are still waiting for this so-called revolution. Discussing the ways in which Trump’s government has already threatened Trans people’s healthcare, and the boardrooms of men who are making decisions about women’s reproductive rights, the panel provided an insightful and realistic look at the powerful role gender still plays in society.
‘Funny Women’ Stand-up comedy – On Sunday we ended the day by sitting in the audience watching a range of female comedians – who were all hilarious. I am not just saying that to be polite, I am a tough crowd, but these women belong on the stage. Any attempt at a rundown of their set would be an injustice, but if you enjoy female comedy be sure to look up Sajeela Kershi and self-proclaimed ‘Guilty Feminist’ Deborah Frances-White.
And in case you just want some inspirational quotes to pin on your mirror, here were some of my favourites…
“Sometimes it’s good not to fit, it can seem like an easier fit in moulds that exist already but an unclassified person can make something really special” – Lauren Laverne
“I’m from a pre-eyebrow generation where we just weren’t aware we had them … like we have to do our eyebrows now as well!?” – Lauren Laverne
“Remember how much fun FUN is, because it’s good for the soul” – Gemma Cairney
“”Language matters, you’re further disenfranchising people with your misuse of language” – Fatima Manji
“Women’s equality and feminism is not a women’s only sport….” – Hannah Winterbourne
“Whatever your story is, whenever you’re ready, come out of hiding…” – Jude Kelly
“I don’t write for the sake of writing, I write to bring the world into being.” – Jane Bernard
If you want to have a look at the rest of the events that took place or find out more about any of the speakers, many of the talks have been recorded and uploaded online. Or you can go to WOW for more information, enjoy!