Women’s Fightback London discussion group met on Friday 3 August for ‘A Feminist Show and Tell’. Each woman told a special story or gave a presentation on something which summed up part of their feminism or the ideas surrounding the object. The open nature of this meeting led to a dynamic discussion about a plethora of feminist topics, ranging from enjoyable deep debate to more light discussion.
Sam told us about how reading Kat Banyard’s ‘The Equality Illusion’ had made her realise she was a feminist. We swapped experiences of UK Feminista, with which Banyard set up, as a form of feminist activism.
Kelley, currently the National Union of Students Women’s Officer, shared her story of mobilising Scottish women to oust a victim- blaming MP from the Scottish Parliament when she was Scottish Women’s Officer. He publicly blamed a woman for being raped in the media by exclaiming that she was either a sex worker (so what do you expect?) or trying to make up an excuse to ‘hide cheating on her boyfriend’. Kelley described how empowering and positive it was when action forced the MP to resign.
Cathy shared one of her favourite pictures depicting women’s self confidence. It shows a cowgirl riding a horse. She explained that although contradictions like colonialism and animal abuse were present in the picture, the pose the cowgirl is striking, the power and skill she is demonstrating, exudes self-confidence, something the women and working-class people tend to lack. She said we put unnecessary limitations on ourselves and could all do with valuing self confidence.
Another woman shared a locket that held a picture of her feminist icon, her grandmother. The conversation branched out to talk about feminist role models and how important they can be in guiding our ideas and choices.
Another shared a book written for children by Rosa Parks about her life and activism. She summed up her thoughts about Rosa under three main areas, that she was brave, politically thought-out / principled and a feminist icon.
Brave because she fervently fought against racial oppression despite a culture of fear and apathy amongst her black community.
A feminist icon because she found herself at the fore of the black civil rights movement despite the sexism in women weren’t allowed on some demonstrations and were put down by men at the helm of the movement like Nixon who was the General Secretary of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He once told Rosa, whilst she was the NAACP and Porters Union secretary, that ‘’women are only good for the kitchen”. Of course she challenged him and he responded by saying that she was “not only good for the kitchen”. Politically thought out and principled because she stood for her own ideas generated from her activist experiences; she didn’t agree with Martin Luther King’s strictly pacifist approach as she thought self defence was key, she also didn’t agree with Malcolm X’s early agitation that all whites are oppressors.
Some of the women shared their experiences of growing body (armpit) hair. How is it that a woman growing a bit of poxy underarm hair is an act of subversion in this society? There was discussion about how societal pressure on women to look a certain way is a deeply penetrated oppressive tool but also implicit and hard to tackle. On the upside we reported that letting our body hair grow felt liberating but was enmeshed in contradiction as we still conform to other societal pressures such as what clothes to wear, etc. This conversation spurred on from a discussion about the oppressive tool of women’s forced religious wear. It was agreed that women’s pressure to conform in all societies and cultures amounts to different experiences of oppression. It is worth grappling with them all.
The discussion ended with talk of what it is to be feminist. The mug Karen shared with us quoting Rebecca West summated the evening. It stated:
“I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat”.