So, Ladyfest London is officially over. For readers who couldn’t make it, you can see the photos I took over on Flickr.
Looking back at the weekend, I am left feeling like the workshops I attended, the music I heard, the films I saw, stalls I perused – all of it was brilliant, but the experience was more tantalizing than satisfying. The sheer range of options was brilliant – but one blogger can’t be in four equally-appealling places at once, not even taking into account other commitments, so this is by necessity a bit of a sporadic account, or random collection of thoughts – about the workshops, as those were the most thought-provoking.
The riot grrrl workshop today was organised as, very interestingly, a ‘long table’. Based on a concept by the artist Lois Weaver, a long table is (from the handbook put together for the occasion by F-Word contributor Cazz Blase):
Literally a long table – with paper table ‘cloth’ and pens, with panel and chair and anyone in audience seated around the table – other folks can sit in chairs around the central circle and if anyone leaves then they can be replaced by one in the outer circle. It has to be facilitated and people encouraged to join the table.
As you might suspect, this was a success, but not an unmitigated one. I think with more exposure to this format, it could work very well as a ‘more feminist’ way of conducting this sort of workshop.
This was suggested by Lucy Thane, who was also at the long table and actively took part in the debate, and had some interesting insights on early riot grrrl and the films she made documenting the movement (sadly not very widely available). Interesting words were said about what riot grrrl is – an identity or a verb? A historical moment or a current movement? How dangerous is/was it? Is it good or bad that riot grrrl is now being studied in universities and written about by academics (many of them former grrrls), and how can that be done without commodification/appropriation?
From one extreme to the other: another interesting workshop that I went to was on ‘women and the vote’. Actually not about suffragettes, but the lack of women in parliament and government, the feminisation versus the feminismisation of politics (meaning more women MPs and ministers versus more feminist policy-making).
In fact, these two workshops do relate to each other, in as much as feminists we must ask ourselves questions about where we want to put our energies and what we want to achieve. Given the divisive debates I’ve personally seen on the basis of what must, to the outside world, seem like relatively minor shades of opinion, how much are we willing to make the much greater leap of compromise necessary to engage in a flawed party-political system, and do we want to? And yet, what are the consequences if we – at least some of us – do not?
Following on from the mayoral elections here in London, I’ve given serious thought to the notion of joining a political party for the first time in my life. Even though I already vote basically along ‘party lines’, like most people, actually joining up seems like an affirmation of an assortment of dubious policy positions that I utterly oppose too far. Not that I’d consider it, but the concept of actually having to tow the party line on these policies as an elected representative? Ugh.
Yet important work is done by feminists who do swallow their scruples and sign up. And where would we be if everyone took that attitude?
Some of the most interesting insights, however, were to do with the ways of analysing women’s role in a political party: paying attention not only to how many female candidates are put forward at the general election, but the numbers in winnable seats; not only to whether women’s groups are at work on policies on issues like domestic violence, but how ’embedded’ those groups are in the party structure; to whether change is being forced through by an individual, or whether that same structure is designed to take proper account of a women’s – better yet, a feminist – perspective as a matter of course.
The blogging workshop with Annie Mole from Going Underground and Laurie from Penny Red, was small but interesting, considering issues such as the accessibility of blogging, how to deal with trollish and abusive commenters and how the anonymity of the internet can provide opportunities, but also invisibilise – Annie mentioned how readers often, wrongly, assume she is a white man.
Well, those are my rather uncollected thoughts on a tiny sample of what I saw, let alone what was on offer. It was a great time, and congratulations to the organisers who worked so hard on putting it all together!
Incidentally, Ladyfest Madrid is due to start in a few days from now, with its own brilliant-sounding programme including “autodefensa feminista”, “produccion de radio feminista”, Lydia Lunch and “iconografía menstrual”.