The Future Will be Feminist of Not at All

Having just returned home from a feminism filled day, I was pleasantly surprised to find an extra unexpected bit of feminism waiting for me: the new – fully feminist – issue of the Red Pepper on my desk. I have just spent a whole day at Lush City, fundraising for the Feminist Library, having been prepping that morning, at the Library, and having seen a feminist window display at a pub on the corner of Southwark station (my usual route to the Library), I thought I’d had my fill of feminism for the day. But evidently not.

But then I am not writing this to tell you about my day, but because I have been noticing a shift – in the general leftist politics towards what seems like more of a seriously feminist approach. And seeing this issue on my desk seemed to be yet another proof that something new was happening. A move in the right direction, finally, I thought. I have opened the issue with anticipation – something I have not actually been able to do for quite a while, since the general left (by which I mean he left outside of feminism) had been generally speaking getting on my nerves for so long by ignoring feminist voices that I’d learned to ignore it back. I had very little patience left for anything outside of feminism.

Until now – over the past month, I felt some change in the left climate. First, I saw Naomi Klein at the Southbank for IWD, and heard her speak with reverence about the women leading the environmental movement – as well as other leftist movements – and about the necessity of a feminist approach to battle the patriarchal attitudes at the heart of planet and climate destruction. On Monday just passed I went to a conference on critical approaches to AI at Goldsmith’s and it was wonderful – most, if not all speakers, openly talking about the core value of feminism in this work, including a man who spoke of it with true reverence…honestly! And now – nearly a month on – this issue just lands on my desk.

I would normally dismiss these happenings as yet another empty attempt by the left to pull in feminists onto their side. But for the first time in years it actually seems genuine. Or at least a bit too much of a coincidence. Or perhaps I’m being naïve again… I guess we’ll see, time will tell.

Hope not. What Naomi Klein was saying really struck me – if we only have 12 years now to sort our s*** out when it comes to climate change, we need to get on with it. And if we need a serious shift away from patriarchy in order for it to happen, then really, there is not a minute to loose! The revolution was not invented yesterday, and yet, there’s so much still to do!

And then again, I read the editorial in the issue of Red Pepper that filled me with so much hope, and it didn’t seem to make the deep connection that Naomi Klein was making between climate change and patriarchy, despite being very much on the subject…

The future of humanity does not look bright without feminism, if we need to sort out patriarchy, and so fast, in order to save ourselves from a climate catastrophe… so it better be true that things are changing. Or else we’re f****d!

 

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The Glorious Return of Feminist Spaces

It’s been an incredible few months – pretty much every couple of weeks, I’ve heard about a new feminist space popping up! So many of them by now I needed to write this just to keep track myself! Including, but not limited to, I’m sure:

In London: 

Feminist Library – not new by and large – the Feminist Library was set up in 1975 and has just celebrated its 44th birthday – but it will shortly be opening (this Spring, date tbc) a new, bigger space in Peckham. The space is designed by a feminist designers, architects and makers team, and will be 50% bigger, giving the Feminist Library enough wiggle room to expand both its collections and events programme!

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Designs for the new Feminist Library space in Peckham

Second Shelf – the new feminist bookshop opened its Soho doors in November 2018, and focuses on stocking first editions and rediscovered works by women.

Vagina Museum – it has been going as a pop up for a few years now, but now it finally has a chance to open its physical doors in Camden. The crowdfunding campaign has some 2 weeks and over £100,000 still to go, however, so go and support it now if you want it to happen!

Black Feminist Bookshop – has successfully crowdfunded for its first phase (pop-up) at the beginning of Women’s History Month 2019. Now, if you want to hear about what it’s up to and where the pop ups are coming up, you can sign up to its newsletter via its crowdfunder link here.

East End Women’s Museum – after a long (about 5 years) campaign, last year, the brilliant group behind this project announced that a site has become available. Set to open in Barking and Dagenham in 2020. In the meantime, they run a programme of exhibitions all around East London. Follow them to find out where they can be found next.

Holloway women’s building – remains to be seen what it ends up being exactly, but the people who bought the former Holloway site just a few weeks ago have promised to make space for community/women’s building, as has been demanded by the local campaigners from the beginning. For updates on the campaign, follow Reclaim Holloway.

Pages Cheshire Street – new outlet by the people behind Pages of Hackney – new feminist bookshop, with writing by women and non-binary people, opened up in Brick Lane this May! Their events programme looks ace as well, so do check out their website.

Further out in the UK: 

Brighton feminist bookshop – aiming to open its doors mid to late 2019, in the meantime, running some pop up events. Watch this space to find out more.

Physic garden – the project is working to create a medicine garden (fully by women) in Lancashire. They have already crowdfunded successfully and now they’re looking for votes to support their application to have the project backed by the Lottery Fund.

Nab Cottage, vegan B&B – perhaps not strictly feminist, but created by an awesome feminist friend of a friend. A must-visit for anyone travelling to or past Bexhill.

International: 

Sister Library in Mumbai – has been running as a pop up until now, but in December 2018 has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund its physical home. You can still support it here.

Feminist library in Chiapas, Mexico – work in progress at the moment, and I’m still waiting to receive website details from them. But it sounds amazing – they are working with local indigenous women in the community to make accessibility and inclusion at the heart of the project.

FemHouse – feminist library and queer café recently opened in Yerevan, Armenia – they have just put a callout for solidarity to the Feminist Library, as apparently they face a lot of issues, including gender based hatred, where they are, so if you are a feminist library or café, or another organisation that can help or if you’d like to express support (we are currently waiting for more details ourselves, to link their website, etc.).

Do let me know if you know of any more fabulous feminist spaces popping up where you are! I want to know about them all!

Vagina Museum IS coming to London!

The other day I got the most exciting email. I usually don’t like people asking me for financial pledges of support, because I’m not stable enough, financially, to be able to support them all and I end up feeling guilty. But this one was different. I almost did a little happy dance when I read it – the Vagina Museum is finally looking like it’s going to be opening its physical doors and it’s crowdfunding to make it happen!!

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Vagina Museum is crowdfunding to open its first physical space in Nov 2019!

I first met Florence Schechter, the founder of the Museum, last Spring, in the run up to  an event we collaborated on in June – Vagina Day – at the Feminist Library. It was fun working with Florence, as she’s not just full of ingenious ideas (you have to admit, it’s not every day you meet someone who’s come up with something like the Vagina Museum!), but also incredibly funny. It is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating herstories one can learn about as a feminist – the story of women’s bodies and sexuality.

Just to give you a couple of examples, Florence told us that, apparently, many men still see the vagina as ‘shrouded in mystery’ (Eve Appeal, 2017)! Or did you know that, as VM’s stall that we also had at the V-Day showed, many of us (male or female!) still cannot name all the female sexual organs correctly! Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, really – in a way, the former explains the latter: we are still not honestly taught about vaginas, vulvas or female sexual pleasure in sexual education, despite it being the 21st century. Equally fascinating, although admittedly troubling (and annoying!) is the fact that, throughout centuries, men fought for the right to put their name on the ‘discovery’ of… the clitoris! Yes, the same clitoris that women had known about (and used!) throughout many centuries prior!

If these stories are anything to go by as to what the Vagina Museum is going to be like, it’s going to be the best (and perhaps the most urgently needed!) museum in London, if not the world! Feminists world all over will be making it a destination place and we need to make sure that we make it happen!

If you’re intrigued and want to read more fun, fascinating and absolutely necessary stories like these, go to Vagina Museum’s blog and follow them on Twitter for a daily dose of vagina-themed fun! Fortunately, this topic seems to be opening up a lot more these days, and VM’s blog is not the only place one can read about women’s bodies, pleasure and sexuality. Two of the most recent publications that have come to my attention are Fruit of Knowledge by Liv Strömquist (I read this one in a day, it pulled me in so much! Not to mention, it comes in a form of a comic book, so it is actually possible to read in a couple of hours on the everyday trip to work and back, if you’re a Londoner like I am) and Vagina-nomics magazine (which is also currently crowdfunding for its second issue!).

Find out more and donate here:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/vaginamuseum

The eternal fear of witches

Recently watching another new show on the theme of witches (not as bad as most of the others, which still very much tend to just perpetuate the old magic/evil myths – there’s quite a few feminist bits), what seems to me like an interesting realisation occurred to me: unlike most other collectively persecuted peoples in history, the witches were never rehabilitated, never (officially) celebrated, never given back their good name by an authority of any kind…

You might think that this is an odd thought to have while watching what’s supposed to be entertainment tv. But, for a while, it seemed to me that it was more or less obvious, in this day and age that, regardless of our definition of exact definition of witches, in historical terms, they were mostly just women persecuted for being rebels, wise women, healers… whatever. And yet, we still seem to suffer from some form of denial: somehow, at the same time, we are capable in not believing in magic and still denying the persecution against those women were simple acts of women hating. If you think about it just for a second – it cannot be both of these things. One either believes in magic – and therefore also the patriarchal definition of witches as evil creatures – or not – and therefore would have to accept that witches, as servants of the devil, were just a concept invented by men and their patriarchal institutions to get rid of ‘inconvenient’ women.

Many studies of the history of witches and the persecutions have by now led to the same – rather obvious – deduction – one that confirms that witches were really just wise women. From a feminist perspective, one could even say the first feminists. And yet… We still love to tell tall tales about witches – which is fine to an extent, I guess: there’s nothing wrong with a bit of imagination and fantasy. Still, it is no excuse for the elephant in the room: why do we allow the continued lack of rehabilitation of the thousands of women who fell pray to the hideous reality of witch hunts and persecutions. The perpetuatiom of the mythology in modern storytelling seems to me a contributing factor.

I guess that would require a degree of soul searching still not commonly known from our establishment – including an admission of guilt from a church already embattled by the ongoing paedophilia scandal… Perhaps that is, unsurprisingly, (another) step too many for them, seeing that they can’t bring themselves even to admit their guilt in the ongoing and well documented, issue of child abuse.

Having been attached to the Feminist Library for a few years now, I have been lucky to discover some very interesting books on the topics. I think that, as much as the connection between wise women/healers and witchy history is probably obvious to most feminists, what many might not know is the active role of the medical establishment in the persecutions of witches. This little book, Witches, Midwives & Nursesis an excellent outline on the topic.

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Cover of Witches, Midwives & Nurses 

Here’s a list of some other interesting reads on the topic of witches.

During last weekend’s celebrations, I was lucky to be able to go to see a talk by Naomi Klein, and I was very pleased that she mentioned witches too. In the context of Naomi’s talk, witches were the holders of ancient knowledge, our connection to the natural world. Through the persecution of witches, we have lost at least some of that connection. One could say that the current state of climate emergency is linked to witch burnings…

This last one is a stark realisation – have we lost this knowledge for good and is it too late or can we reclaim it? Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in Women Who Run with Wolves, convinces me that we can. I surely hope that she’s right – both for us as women and the earth.

Inspired by this work, Lucy North of Lateral Haze, leads her version of Women’s Circles, with the aim of spreading this ancient knowledge back among the women of the world. She uses Pinkola Estes’ writing as the basis of bringing women onto a journey re-discovery of our witchy and goddess-y roots.

Women’s Circles seem to be a popular phenomenon again these days, which is heartening. And at the same time, there appears to be a thin line between those who debunk stereotypes and those who use this as a forum for reinforcing some of the harmful stereotypes of femininity behind the cover of female ’empowerment’.

I believe we need to restore the good memory of witches – they are part of women’s herstory after all, and we cannot really know ourselves without knowing where we come from. But it would mean leaving the associated magical mythology behind us – or at last separating it from the reality, which still seems to be too convoluted in our culture for us to be able to do that…

New year, new witchy dreams

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Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

My thoughts have been veering towards quite negative energy coming to the end of 2018. Thinking about the discords within the feminist movement a lot. Too much. Finding myself lost in these thoughts for weeks on end, without seeing a solution. Even thought I was depressed for a minute.

But, out of every struggle, something positive can emerge.

So things can seem dire at times. So what. I took some time to rest, relax and think in December. And emerged with some new, hopefully bright, ideas. It took weeks, but I did, finally.

In moments like these, I am, again and again, reminded of Garda Lerner’s words:
“The division of women into the good and the bad ones…” is what patriarchy thrives on. And yet, we often forget it. More or less consciously. That’s when it’s good to remember our foremothers’ words. Around the same time of the year, four years ago, I have made a note of Kate Millett’s words, that came up as a timely reminder within my most recent time period:

“The work of enlarging human freedom is good work” even though it may not always be easy.  

And so I have decided to take these reminders as signs and to learn from this experience. To make a positive change in my life and my feminism. To work more towards a more positive vision of the future. And to remind myself of my vision for Angels & Witches. And to focus more on that and less on everything wrong in the patriarchal world around us.

Of course, easier said than done…! A mind shift does not just happen overnight. Looking into the abyss can become a bit of a habit… It takes patience and practice to shift away from it. Mind training, one might even say. But it’s never impossible. Or else I might have had to resolve myself to dropping feminism altogether! And I don’t think I would know what to do with myself then…!

Instead, I have resolved myself to try a different approach. So this year will be dedicated to trying make a start on a location for Angels & Witches a simpler, more affordable way to start with.

Because, like Arundhati Roy said:
“Another world is possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing”

And so my new year’s resolutions are to not be so hard on myself and my sisters, to read the words of our foremothers more, to learn from them, and to try and avoid forgetting them again in the future, to worry less, and to reflect more. And to try and not look into the abyss as much… And maybe, just maybe, a solution might appear in my path soon.

I feel like starting 2019 by reading more of Roy might be a good idea… Have a blessed year all!

Herstory, precarity and women’s spaces

History is a fascinating thing, full of contradictions – set out to preserve memory, yet quite prone to forgetfulness… especially when it comes to women’s side of the story!

This year, admittedly, has been unusually amazing for women and herstory. With the suffrage centenary in the UK, expense has not been spared to make women feel celebrated. Some women anyhow…

However, that is all about to change. With less than two months left until the end of the centenary year, most, if not all, of the major sources of funding that had been added this year, helping the feminist movement finance some really wonderful activities, are due to magically disappear, and women’s history is at risk of becoming a distant and rather foggy memory yet again…!

And things will revert back to ‘normal’. Patriarchal version of normal that is – a version of reality where women’s activities, just like ‘women’s work’ are mostly free and easily forgettable, and nothing seems too strange about that to most people.

Something that has been celebrated so loudly and proudly, coupled with a recent big resurgence in the feminist movement, is not likely to just go away quietly, however. It feels like the women’s movement has gained so much momentum this year that much noise will be made about the injustice of it all.

Admittedly, we, women, have not perhaps been used to this year’s kind treatment long enough. Perhaps, if we knew our history, or herstory, rather, we would be more likely to riot arm in arm about all the injustices perpetrated to us, as women and as a movement, more coherently. And instead, we focus on single issue campaigns – this is not to blame women for the state of affairs; patriarchy is, of course, responsible for keeping us as busy as ever – often forgetting our own herstory and the power of solidarity.

Once upon a time… London was a true haven for feminists. It provided many spaces for feminists of various persuasions. Many of them funded by the GLC – a statutory body for London – Greater London Council. Now, 32 years after its abolishion, the story of feminist London is barely lodged in most young feminists’ memory.

Most of the time, when London feminists find the Feminist Library for the first time, they are quite surprised that such a thing exists at all! True, in some ways it’s almost a miracle that it has survived so many years – 43 and counting – without much funding at all. But if one looks at it knowing the wider historical context of feminist spaces in London at the time when the it first opened, a different picture altogether emerges.

The Feminist Library used to share its previous three spaces with other feminist organisations – the Spare Rib, Sisterwrite and A Woman’s Place. All of these and nearly all of the other spaces like that, have gone now, leaving the Library to hold the fort alone – still underfunded, still undervalued, struggling away…

The Library’s struggle is emblematic of where the feminist movement is today – still struggling against most of the same issues. We have won certain battles, but the war against patriarchy is still very much alive, and in some cases it has gotten worse, with the capitalism paradigm taking over our lives so much, and normalising economic violence against people, especially women and children…

The Feminist Library’s home of 32 years has yet again become non-viable. It has to move and yet again start over in a new space. The good news is that the new space is looking promising. With a 25-year lease, the Library will be able to flourish in its new, secure home, for at least a quarter of a century. But it needs your help!

Help it protect its precious herstories and obtain a stable and sustainable home for future generations of feminists, so that they can have easier access to the stories they need to read in order to avoid having to reinvent the wheel yet again… Support the Feminist Library crowdfunding campaign now!

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Open book photo – Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

One woman’s alternative guide to feminist London

I decided to write this guide to feminist spots in London, as I found it incredibly frustrating trying to find one myself! This one from London Calling was actually quite interesting and gave me a couple of extra ideas, but it’s far from comprehensive.

What I set out to do is to highlight the lesser known spaces which are run by and for feminists, and often missed by mainstream guides, even those on feminist spaces.

So I hope you enjoy it and find it useful (and please do send me other ideas if you think I’d missed something important!):

  1. Feminist Library – I thought it deserved the number one spot, as I spend a ton of my time there, and as I’ve heard it described to me recently, it’s an absolute haven for feminists in London, and I personally couldn’t agree more – it’s so much more than a library: with bookshop, events, and a hub for feminist meetings by other groups, it ‘has it all’. Even though it remains to struggle financially, a dedicated group of volunteers make ends meet every year, as if by magic. It is a large collection of feminist literature – and the largest independent one in London – its origins dating back to 1975, the height of the Women’s Liberation Movement, commonly known as the second wave in the UK. As it grew over the years, the Feminist Library collections became too big for its own premises to house everything, and Bishopsgate Institute now holds most of the Feminist Library archival and ephemeral collections, while the Wellcome Library is home to the Women’s Health Library, originally given to the FL after its closure. You can get a taste of what’s in store by visiting this recent digital exhibit (which only shows a very small part of the collections!), or signing up to the newsletter here. The Feminist Library also organises feminist tours of the local area.

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    Theory and fiction rooms at the Feminist Library

  2. Holloway prison – the recently shut prison, which used to house many famous suffragettes back in the day, is in the process of being repurposed. An amazing group of local community activists, Reclaim Holloway, came together following the closure, with a mission to transform the land into a space that would be worthy of its herstorical heritage, including a space for a women’s building – with services, meeting space, a museum, and more. Aside from their incredibly inspiring, ongoing, campaign, they also organise community events, transforming the open section of the space into a community gathering hub.
  3. ROOMs or Rooms of Our Own – neighbouring with Holloway, in Walthamstow, an amazing woman, Wendy, has been trying to set up a women’s building – with services, housing, co-working space, and more – in the area for a number of years. The search for a plot continues. If you know of any opportunities in the area, get in touch with Wendy. She will love you until the end of her days!
  4. East End Women’s Museum – a feminist-led alternative to more mainstream, institutional women-focused exhibitions, like the suffrage section of the Museum of London, LSE’s Women’s Library and its centenary exhibition (open throughout 2018, in celebration of #vote100), or the Florence Nightingale Museum; coming to London as a permanent space in 2019. Even though the museum is not yet officially open, it was a massive success story celebrated by feminists in London when we heard that they have actually found a space, after a very long search campaign. Though the physical museum is still in the making, the group behind it is very busy organising exhibitions around London and community events locally in Barking & Dagenham, so check out their events page for info on all the latest.
  5. Luminary Bakery – a feminist project as much as it is a bakery. Set up with a mission to empower disadvantaged women, it provides skills and training to women affected by domestic violence, the criminal system, poverty and homelessness. Very inspiring – I hope to be able to work with them when Angels & Witches finally finds a home!
  6. Tonight Josephine – a cocktail bar for women, inspired by Joséphine de Beauharnais, an infamous French party girl (Napoleon, her husband, often gets a mention in her story, but I was in two minds about giving him any space here), which was seen as very outrageous in her time. It just so happens that it’s also based down the road from the Feminist Library, so you can visit them both on the same day, and maybe even squeeze in a trip down the LSE Women’s Library’s suffrage exhibit or to…
  7. Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths University – part of the academic collection, but staffed by the incredibly knowledgeable and helpful special collections curator, Althea Greenan. If you give her a call and make an appointment ahead of going, you should be able to get your own private tour of the collection. Also recently partly digitised – you can now download an app to browse parts of the collections and stories of selected artists.
  8. Her Noise archive – this one is part of the special collections at the University of Arts. So another one just down the road from the Feminist Library (it seems all the feminist roads lead to it, what can I say!). You can arrange a visit  by getting in touch by phone or email. But you can also browse their extensive online collections if you’re not in London.
  9. She Soho – if you fancy continuing your feminist day into the night, a short bus ride away is She bar and club night in Soho. Open to women and their male guests.
  10. 2 Girls’ Café – lovely vegan food and zero waste. Set up and run by two women on a mission to promote vegan food and local art. And available for events hire too. I hesitate to mention this again, but it is only a short bus ride away from the Feminist Library, as well as the Women’s Art Library and Her Noise archive, and, if you still have time to do the short walk across the river, The Women’s Library at LSE! By now, hopefully you’re starting to picture a map in your head, plotting your journey.
  11. Persephone Books – a hidden gem in the heart of London. This bookstore brings you a range of literature classics written by women. Beautifully packaged too – Persephone has its own, unique, signature style, and you can get some gorgeous wrapping paper to take your haul away in, making it the perfect gift shopping destination for feminists.
  12. Chickpea Sisters – an amazing restaurant and inspiring project, run by women for women. Eat and support empowerment of vulnerable women while you’re at it. What’s not to love!
  13. Coming to London soon is a new feminist bookshop! Exact location still to be announced, but it sounds like it will become another destinations spot for London feminists.

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