Thursday, 17 January 2013

Whilst you’ve been talking about us, we’ve been here doing stuff. So let’s celebrate!

Hello. My name is Sian Norris. I am a feminist. I am 28 years old. Although that means I have long waved goodbye to the chance to use a young person’s railcard, I think I am still technically a young feminist. 

I’m not sure what the cut off point actually *is* but seeing as I have no plans for losing my young label anytime soon I stand by my point. I am a young feminist. What’s more, I’ve been a feminist since I was definitely young. I was 14 when I read Marge Piercy, I was 16 when I read The Whole Woman, I was 22 when I organised a feminist event (Ladyfest Bristol 2007) and I was 23 when I started co-running the Bristol Feminist Network. Got it? Feminist. And. Young. 

But a lot of the talk about the feminist movement for as long as I have been involved in it has often put me in the state of an existential crisis. We apparently do not exist. Young women aren’t interested in feminism. They don’t identify with feminism. All that wonderful marvellous stuff that the feminist movement has achieved is ignored in favour of arguments about rebranding and changing the name. 

This came to a head for me the other week when Vagenda, who are feminists and who are younger than me, started talking about why young women aren’t feminists. Then this triggered more debate about why young women aren’t feminists. And then everyone forgot to check in with the young women who are feminists. They just talked about us without talking to us. Again. It’s pretty confusing but most of all it’s bloody infuriating. 

Sometimes we see the opposite effect. An article appears saying ‘hey! Look! Feminists are here! They’re young and they wear make-up and some of them are men! Wahey!’ But in many ways those articles can be as frustrating as the ones that say there are no young feminists because they often de-politicize feminist issues and only focus on very narrow areas of what feminist activists are doing. 

So anyway. Here’s the thing. I don’t believe feminism needs re-branding to be made attractive to young women or any women. I don’t believe in abandoning the name of a movement that has brought women so much. Instead, I believe we need to counter the voices in the mainstream media that do down feminism or just focus on feminists when we’re talking about issues that can be illustrated with tits. Now’s the time to celebrate the amazing work feminists are doing. 

Because what better way to show what a vibrant, exciting, inclusive and fabulous thing feminism is than actually talking about what a vibrant, exciting, inclusive and fabulous thing feminism is?

Of course, as this last week has shown once again, feminism is not without its problems. We still have a long way to go to sort some shit out. So please don’t take this post as some how glossing over those issues. It’s not. 

But sometimes we can all take a moment to celebrate the great work that feminism does. Especially when so much of that work is deliberately ignored in the media. 

Living in Bristol, my list may be a bit West Country biased. And also biased towards women I know. So add your own ideas, people and wonderful projects to the list. 

I am so proud to be a feminist. Feminism has enriched my life so much, has taught me so much. It has given me friends, new perspectives, brought new thoughts and concepts and people into my life. 

So here goes…

First, let’s celebrate The F Word
When I first came to feminism as an adult, The F Word was there for me. It is still there today. It’s a consistently fantastic site that covers so many issues in an unbiased way. It gives a voice to so many women. It strives to be intersectional and, during a week where trans issues have been in the spotlight, it is a safe space that challenges transphobia. It is unashamedly political and isn’t snarky. 

Daughters of Eve is a wonderful charity empowering young women around issues of FGM. Founders Nimko Ali and Leyla Hussein are passionate, driven and amazing women who are standing up for the rights of girls across the globe. They give a voice to young women affected by FGM and are totally awe inspiringly amazing. 

In a similar vein, if you saw the Newsnight special on FGM, then you saw the young women from Integrate Bristol. These girls and women are tackling FGM – speaking out, making films, giving presentations and putting together a huge international conference last July. When a young man from the Somali community stood up to introduce the event I had tears of respect in my eyes. Their energy and determination is an inspiration. 

Go Feminist is run by a group of women who wanted to put on a truly intersectional feminist conference that gave a voice to all women. Now they’re taking their skills and expertise to work with young people across London to talk to them about issues such as violence against women and girls. 

And then there’s Intersect. Organised in Bristol last year by @TheNatFantastic it was a conference of inspiring speakers including Women Asylum Seekers Together, Paris Lees, Sarah Round and Nimko Ali. 

UK Feminista was set up by feminist powerhouse Kat Banyard. An organisation to bring feminist activists together, it has inspired hundreds of young women to identify as feminists. The Summer School this year was so packed with young women that I felt old! Then there’s the conferences, the research, the protests – a truly inspiring organisation. 

Object is tackling the issues of the treatment of women as sex objects. Successfully campaigning for law changes – including a law that made it a criminal offence to pay for sex with a woman or man who is coerced or exploited – they are a brilliant organisation and their website is a great resource. 
Campaigning on similar issues and equally as fabulous are Turn your Back on Page 3 and No More Page 3.  

Everyday Sexism is showing the world just how bad things still are when it comes to misogyny. Their exposure of sexual harassment, sexual violence and basic, everyday sexism (duh!) is doing so much to prove to the world that yes, we still need feminism. 

No Women No Peace is demanding for change across the world to ensure that women’s rights are not sold down the river when it comes to peace negotiations. They’re exposing what violence against women in conflict zones actually means. As we move closer to leaving Afghanistan, No Women No Peace are working in solidarity with Afghan women’s rights activists to make sure women are part of the peace process and the country’s future. 

Women for Refugee Women was set up by feminist writer Natasha Walter to work for the rights of refugee women and asylum seekers. This organisation works in partnership with WAST to give women refugees a voice when all too often they are silenced on all sides. 

Reclaim the Night was re-ignited by feminist powerhouse Finn Mackay who is also the founder of London Feminist Network. Her energy and vision to end violence against women and girls is inspiring and now Reclaim the Nights are happening all over the UK (independently of Finn) – including in Bristol. 

One25 is a Bristol based organisation who work with street-based sex workers. Non-judgemental and totally brilliant, our city is a better place for them. 

The Sky Project is another Bristol organisation that works on issues of forced marriage, providing support. 

EVAW or the End Violence against Women Coalition are a fantastic organisation that are currently doing lots of work on sex education with a focus on consent and respect. They’re providing teaching resources and educational info that will help to tackle sexual harassment and violence in schools. And that’s just ONE thing they do…

Ladyfest – because if you love women, music, art, writing and having a fun, feminist time, you love Ladyfest.

Abortion Support Network We’re facing a real threat to our reproductive rights. ASN campaigns on abortion issues and supports women coming to the UK from places such as Northern Ireland who want an abortion. 

Bird’s Eye Film Festival because they celebrate women’s work in the male dominated film industry. 

We are Equals and WOW for celebrating the amazing work done by women and championing women’s rights activists across the world. And, you know, that Daniel Craig vid.

V Day because Eve Ensler is an inspiration and she is working to end VAWG across the globe. 

Bristol Feminist Network and Bristol Fawcett – because, quite frankly, where would I be without them? They are my sisters. When I think how much BFN have achieved in just over five years I am overwhelmed with pride. 

All the women who have been part of WomensAid, Refuge and Eaves over the years. All of the women who have founded, volunteered at, managed Rape Crisis Centres. All of the women who give their time and energy and determination to end violence against women and girls. I don’t know your names. But without you and the women who came before you, the world would be a worse place. 

My blogging sisters – We Mixed our DrinksToo Much to Say for Myself, Rmott62, The Real SGM,  Marina SGlosswatchForty Shades of Grey, StavversBlack Feminists UK, Bird of Paradox. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Without the women’s words I read on the internet I would be a much more ignorant woman than I am today. And I don’t even know that much stuff. 

HammerOn Press and all of Debi’s incredible ventures bringing our feminist history to life. 

The White Ribbon Campaign works with young men to educate on issues of violence against women and girls. 

The Anti-Porn Men Project brings together men who want to question the increased normalisation of pornography in our culture and the impact that has on men and women. 

My friends like Anna, Helen, Sue, Katy, Marina, Jenny and everyone who I met through feminism and who I love. 

Every woman who has written about feminism, every woman who has spoken out about women’s rights, every woman who has helped us move closer and closer to liberation. Feminism has a rich and complex and exciting history. Feminism – in the UK – has given us the right to vote, the right to be our own person, the right to an education, the right to pay the gas bill, the right to control over our own bodies. In the UK feminism has meant that rape in marriage is a crime. Feminist women have built a movement that has changed all of our lives for the better. Every single one of you is on this list. Without all the women who came before, without all the women who are acting NOW, I would not be able to say today that I am proud to be a feminist. 

This list is basically no-where near as long as it should be. It’s all the organisations I could think of from the top of my head in my lunch break. Organisations that I think are inspiring and deserve celebrating. So don’t have a go at me if I have missed out any wonderful feminist things. Just add them to the list in the comments. 

Because it’s important to remember the wonderful work being done. I hope by celebrating our work, our energy, we can help show why feminism is such a vital movement and try to do away with the negative stereotypes of feminism that have such a stranglehold at the moment. 

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