Red Chidgey speaks to Coral and Marie, part of ‘The Cailleach Collective’, inspirational organisers of Glasgow’s ‘Frock On!’ events.
With two successful Frock Ons this year already in the bag, several more on the horizon and secured funding of over £12,000, The Cailleach Collective are a group of women extraordinarily talented at getting things done. The name of the Frock On fest, whilst sharing a pun with past ‘Frock Off’ events organised by London musicians Gertrude, has its origins, I am told by workshop co-ordinator Coral, with the artist Textaqueen “who draws comic style portraits of naked chicks in Sydney Australia and around the world”.
As you can imagine, this feminist event is about having fun but also, as explained by web-mistress and band committee member Marie, to do with supporting “women in the community who usually make little or no money with the amazing skills they have”.
Similar then to the North American and European Ladyfest phenomena, Frock On provides a programme of workshops, gigs, art and film – all promoting women’s talent and empowerment – combined with a particular skill for opening up spaces in the local community. A commitment to the events being accessible to women of all backgrounds is, in part, reflected in the collective’s policy of ensuring that all workshops, lunch and creche facilities remain free of charge. Then there’s the use of local neighbourhood centres as day venues and the collective’s innovation at hosting surprising evening gigs. With a stroke of genius, June’s punk gig was held in Queen’s park The Glasshouse – a beautiful, tranquil garden centre!
So, what does it take to put on such an event? Coral, who alongside her role in the collective works at Body Positive (a HIV AIDS self help centre) and Positive Action (“it’s like a free shop for refugees”), and Marie (“I am a lazy student. With a dissertation”) talked to me about feminism, organisational tips and plans for the future.
How did the collective come about and what was your inspiration for organising Frock On events in Glasgow?
It started at the Carnarvon Pub with just a handful of punkrock women [in November 2002]. Some of us were in female bands and we found it was hard to get shows, perhaps due to the patriarchy, perhaps not. Lots of these bands were very talented and not getting their space in the limelight. But we changed that. We found out that having an educational component to the fest (the workshops) helped us to get funding.
What was the original vision for Frock On?
Coral: We didn’t necessary know what would happen. In March, we didn’t know if anyone would show up or if there would be riots out front. But we were pleasantly surprised at the large number of people who showed up and then at the number of repeat ladies in June. Also we were stoked with the intergenerational aspect of Frock On. Older feminists were reuniting as well as hanging with the younger feminists. The waves were united into one ocean! Also I had been a somewhat passive consumer of different anarchist festivals in North America and Queeruption in London. I was on the fringes of Ladyfest Glasgow, volunteering. I had those festivals in my head and thought it was time to start giving back. I thought it was going to be a women punk fest but it has turned into that plus a more all round community type feel.
Marie: I didn’t know what it would be like. It was a complete surprise. I woke up one day to find emails from Coral inviting me to meetings. I had the feeling that something was starting and it was similar in vibe to Ladyfest, which was amazing, and I wanted to get involved this time round.
How did you afford to put on the first Frock On without funding?
We got just under £2,500 to do the first one – £500 from Glasgow City Council for their International Women’s Day [bursary]. And another chunk from En-Gender in Edinburgh also for International Women’s Day. You’d be surprised how much accessible large venues, plus creche, cost. It’s usually ourselves and Zenobia writing the grant applications, but we’re hoping to involve more people in the collective.
You received a generous bursary from Direct Grants to organise another four events over the year following the success of the two-day Frock On in March. What tips and advice can you give to other women applying for event funding?
Coral: Send off for the applications and fill them in. It’s that easy. Contact your local voluntary sector organisation. Attain charitable status if you can so you can get ALL the grants (thanks Sophie who’s getting ours together!) But if you are too disorganised there are loads of grants to get without it!
Marie: Read the form very carefully and all the documentation. Make notes about what it is they are looking for. Take your time over it. Email us for advice! firstname.lastname@example.org
How much time and effort does it take to put on an event like Frock On?
LOTS AND LOTS.
Marie: It’s a lot of work but worth it on the day. Also we work in the knowledge that we’re a collective and that there is always somebody to help.
Coral: It has taken over my life in the past but nowadays usually I can take care of everything I need to do in one half day (phoning around, co-ordinating stuff like picking up free photocopies or booking workshop facilitators etc.) and one full evening a week answering the email. Just now we’re having meetings every Wednesday night at the women’s co-op where some of us live.
What kind of atmosphere did you wish to create and how did you go about making the event as inclusive and appealing to different women?
Marie: [We aimed for] a really healthy vibrant kind of atmosphere. I wanted it to be similar to Ladyfest – that feeling of excitement and community?We also try to make sure that all the venues are accessible and provide a creche.
Coral: I wanted to create a feeling that through communication we would be stronger and the sense of isolation would diminish. A lot of us were in different pockets/ scenes and now they are vaguely merged/blurred. We send out promo packs to all the women’s groups in Glasgow, we poster and flyer locally a lot.
What kind of feedback have you received from the two events you have put on so far?
Marie: Generally really positive from both women and men. A lot of women get really excited about the event and want to get involved or start DIY projects of their own. One women’s 13-year old daughter who came to Frock On in the evening told us it was one of the funnest nights of her life. I think that’s probably got to do with seeing women performing, the event being kid-friendly and the venue’s ducks, carp and iguanas.
Coral: We’ve had loads of support from older feminists. If we have any negative feedback we’ve tried hard to remedy it. [For the next event] we’ve added another room to chill out in and additional workshop rooms to bring the noise down. Also this next Frock On we are starting the postering earlier and having advance tickets due to public requests. But! We have had crappy hurtful feedback from certain men. Basically they are uneducated. They need to educate themselves. It shouldn’t be women’s job to educate men. They should take responsibility for their total male privilege in the scene and work on their issues why they take such offence to women organised events that promote and support women.
What are you doing differently for the next events?
Marie: Having more fake snow. Ice queen contest where everyone wins. Mistletoe kisses. Keep attracting more women from all backgrounds. Have better directions to the venues. To be even more welcoming when people enter one of our community venues.
Coral: See above for some of that room/ noise stuff. Also we are talking about men being involved in the organisational process if they are in agreement with our principles. Our male friends have been a great help to us carting around gear, cooking, and accommodating bands when we are too busy doing other things during events. (Thank you Damage, Chaz, Dave, Luke, Youngy and Elliot!)
What do you hope to continue?
Marie: The positive vibe. The diversity of the workshops and bands and different women. I would like to keep us slightly uncool – the way we are, because too cool is inaccessible. I don’t ever want to appear cliquey – anyone can come along to a meeting.
In your mission statement you wrote:
“Our goal is to make links with and strengthen/build on the existing feminist community with aim of making feminism cool again. Because everything we do affects us and the patriarchal world we live in. Frock On is against homophobia, racism, ageism, and men-bashing.”
Following the recent Talking Equality report that wished to indicate young women disassociate with feminism, considering the backlash to feminism in the media and that even some older feminists imply there’s no new blood picking up the weaponry; how has the feminist content of Frock On been received?
Marie: The thing is Frock On is about empowering women, making them feel good about themselves and each other, and showing off their talents – it’s essentially feminist. Lots of women are aware of this and are excited that something overtly feminist is going on. But then lots of women come along who aren’t really aware of feminism or its project – they just want to try massage or bike mechanics, have a good night out in an unusual environment that feels safe and different. Whether or not you’re aware of the feminist content of the fest, you still enjoy it, and hopefully, meet other women and learn stuff. The most controversial aspect of the feminist side of Frock On is the decision to make workshops and the daytime activities women-only. This annoys some men and women who feel it’s discriminatory or unproductive. However, we decided on this because experience has shown women are more likely to speak out or have a go in a women-only environment.
Coral: With Frock On feminism is all about action and not words. By organising or attending Frock On the actions in themselves are more feminist than sitting around and theorising feminism. For me, feminism is not academic; it’s real life.
What do you make of this misrecognition that young women are not actively involved in feminist trail blazing any more?
Marie: I don’t think it’s productive for older feminists to speculate on the inactivity of younger feminists when a search on the net would reveal the world-wide phenomenon of Ladyfest, and grassroots collectives like ours. But I think chances are that the media exaggerates divisions between older and younger feminists?divide and conquer! Our collective has women from 12-50 anyway which I think shows that women of different generations can work together towards common goals.
Coral: The riot grrrl movement, which has transformed into the Ladyfest movement, has struggled for the last decade to create this space for young women to dance and have fun in. Women who are my age/Kathleen Hanna’s age – our mothers paved the way for these movements. Our supermoms give us the strength and vision to pass it on.
How did this spectrum of women and girls in the collective contribute to the diversity of Frock On?
Coral: We’re Scottish, Irish, Canadian, Portuguese, New Zealand, Australian, American, straight, gay, bisexual, transgender and aged 12-50.
Marie: It gives us lots of different perspectives and a different experience to draw on?it’s a major strength of the collective.
How does the collective operate?
Marie: By consensus. We have regular weekly meetings. Everyone takes a turn at chairing and taking minutes, and we rotate those duties. We keep in touch via email including a yahoo group and by phone. Here are our top-tips for forming and maintaining a collective: Advertise for the collective by means of web and flyers. Also just going around to people you know who you think would be interested who have drive, skills and similar politics. Make aims and objectives that everyone agrees with. Plan meetings at the same time each week. Write stuff down – keep lists and cross stuff off them. Be patient, tolerant and accepting of people’s different levels of commitment. Don’t burn out – take care of yourself, pace yourself. Document events by photo and video. Delegate work if you cannot do all the work you’ve been stuck with. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t think you alone have to do everything. Communicating and feedback after events is important. Build the collective and people will come!
What different ideas of feminism are at play in the collective?
Marie: Everyone has an idea of what feminism is and means to them. There have been debates e.g. over women-only space, transgender issues, but we eventually manage to come to a consensus. We’re planning to get some training on decision-making and on disability, race and transgender issues?this’ll help to keep a dialogue going within the collective.
Coral: As our personal politics evolve so will Frock On’s politics evolve. We want to stay open to change and new ideas.
P.S: – the girls would just like to say:
Coral: Start up your own self-named festival or diy project in your area. Find girls who want to start it with you. Have fun; hold clothes swaps and beauty pageants where everyone wins. It has to happen in our own communities. See you in the struggle!
Marie: Don’t hesitate to email us to ask any questions, about practical stuff or just to say hello, if you want to send zines, art, play a fest, come to a fest, get involved in any way mail us – email@example.com also see our site at http://www.frockon.org.