Thursday, 28 February 2013

Just over two weeks to go until the first ever Bristol Women's Literature Festival!

Join Bidisha, Stella Duffy, Helen Dunmore, Selma Dabbagh, Professor Joan Adim-Addo and more for the first ever Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. 

In just a couple of weeks from now, some of the UK’s most celebrated writers and academics will be arriving in Bristol to celebrate their love of books with you. 

The first ever Bristol Women’s Literature Festival aims to celebrate the work of women writers working today and throughout history. It brings together the diverse and exciting talent of women writers, academics and activists to showcase our fantastic literary heritage. 

Chaired by Bidisha, the programme includes TV screenwriter Emilia di Girolamo whose suspenseful and chilling crime dramas include Law and Order UK and The Poison Tree and keep viewers at the edge of their seats. Playwright, novelist and twice winner of Stonewall Writer of the Year Stella Duffy, Orange-prize winning writer Helen Dunmore, first time novelist Beatrice Hitchman and novelist and short story writer Selma Dabbagh will be talking and reading from their work. Taking us through the fascinating and often hidden history of women’s writing will be celebrated academics Professor Helen Taylor, Professor Joan Adim-Addo, Doctor Marie Mulvey-Roberts, Dr Charlotte Crofts and the historian Kate Williams. The festival closes with a discussion on feminist publishing, featuring co-author of Reclaiming the F Word, Kristin Aune, writer and publisher Debi Withers and blogger and writer Josephine Tsui. 

These women are, without doubt, some of the most influential and vibrant writers working today.  

The programme in a nutshell:

Saturday 16th March

11am – 1pm: Feminism on the Small Screen

TV writer Emilia di Girolamo discusses her work writing successful crime dramas and how she uses her work to bring women’s issues to a primetime audience. Her talk will be accompanied by a screening of her Law and Order UK episode, Line Up.

3.30pm – 5pm: Women Writing Today

Stella Duffy, Helen Dunmore, Selma Dabbagh and Beatrice Hitchman discuss and read from their work. 

Sunday 17th March

2pm – 3.30pm: Bluestockings and Muses

Professor Helen Taylor, Professor Joan Adim-Addo, Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts, Dr Charlotte Crofts and Kate Williams discuss the history of women’s literature. This talk is a must for English literature students. 

4pm – 5.30pm: Out of the Ivory Tower

Kristin Aune, Debi Withers and Josephine Tsui discuss feminist publishing and how we bring feminist issues to a new audience. 

Why do we need a women’s literature festival?

Although women have always written and always read, the UK literature scene continues to be very male dominated. Research conducted by UK Feminista in 2010 found that only 38% of the writers nominated for the Booker were women, and, despite women’s success in the prize this year, by 2010, 70% of the winners of the Costa Novel of the Year have been men.  A survey by For Books’ Sake revealed that at Manchester Literature festival, only 20 out of 74 speakers were women, whilst at the Latitude Literary Area, women made up 15 of 53 performers.

The festival’s founder, Siân Norris, explains:

I’m so excited to be inviting such an inspiring and interesting line-up to the first ever Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. There really is a talk here for everyone – from those who want to learn more about women’s literary history, to fans of TV drama and lovers of literary fiction. We have historical novelists, contemporary novelists, feminists, historians and specialists in romantic, gothic, modernist and black women’s writing. So whoever your favourite writer is or whatever your bookish interests are, this festival is for you!

The festival is supported by Watershed, Foyles and The Bristol Festival of Ideas. 

Buy tickets online or call the Watershed on 0117 927 5100

Festival logo designed by Robert Griggs

Monday, 25 February 2013

On the Oscars: How can you be the supporting actress when you're the only actress?

Riddle me this, Bafta and the Academy. How can you be the supporting actress when you are, in fact, the main actress in a movie? 

I ask this because I cannot understand how the brilliant, sublime and wonderful Amy Adams was nominated in the ‘supporting actress’ category of both BAFTA and Oscar lists when in fact she was the lead actress in The Master. Laura Dern was the supporting actress. Amy Adams is the main actress. 

Similarly, how is Anne Hathaway a supporting actress in Les Miserables when clearly she is the best thing about that otherwise rather baggy and boring film? She is the main actress! She is the star. Who is the main actress in Les Mis if not her? Amanda-staring-across-a-square-Seyfried? If anything Eponine is the supporting actress to Fantine’s star. 

I can’t help feel that there is a relationship between the Bechdel test and this odd categorising of women’s roles in movies. All of the supporting actor roles as far as I could tell were actually supporting roles – i.e. there was a main male protagonist and another man performed in the film but in a supporting role. 

But as we all know from the Bechdel test, there is a dearth of films with two women in it at all – let alone films where there are two named women who have lines and actually get to do stuff - let alone stuff that might garner an award nomination. 

So, in The Master, there are two main actors – Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. One can be nominated for a best actor BAFTA and one for best supporting. Then you have Amy Adams and Laura Dern. But Amy Adams’ role, although the dominant female role in the film, is still seen as supporting to the two male protagonists. So she is deemed to be supporting even though she is the leading actress in the film. The male actors are seen in relation to each other. Amy Adams is then seen in relation to the men too. 

In Les Mis, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Eddie Redmayne are the main protagonists. So even though Anne Hathaway is the star woman, her role is still supporting the men in the film. She doesn’t make it into ‘best actress’ because although she is the best actress in the film, the prominence of her role is seen only in relation to the male characters. 

Men are very rarely seen in relation to women characters these days. It seems to me that because there is such a lack of films in Hollywood where women take on a leading role, or any role at all, the awards are always going to struggle to fill the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress category. And because so many Hollywood films present the male as the hero, and feature men as the main protagonist, women are all too often relegated to a supporting role even when they are the main female protagonist. So unless it’s really bloody obvious that the woman is the main character – like in Zero Dark Thirty – or the woman’s character is on an equal screen time footing with a man – like in Amour – then women are almost always seen as supporting. I mean, I haven’t seen Lincoln but from what I can tell, Sally Field is the lead actress she is not the supporting actress. She, Amy Adams and Anne Hathaway will always be supporting when we choose to see the actress role only how it exists in relation to men, rather than in relation to other women. 

And anyway, when all is said and done, Amy Adams should just win everything. As should The Master. It was absolutely the best film of last year and everyone in it should win every award. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

I wrote a book

A couple of years ago, well, rather more than a couple, I started writing a children's book about cats. I entered it into a competition and sent it to some publishers and then forgot about it for a few years.

Then, when I decided to publish The Lightbulb Moment, I dug Greta and Boris out again to do a trial run of self publishing. There were quite a lot of things wrong with it, so I set about re-writing and was soon once more immersed in Greta's magical adventures.

I sent a copy to Bidisha who had expressed an interest in reading it, and her review convinced me to try and get the thing published.

So I contacted John Hunt publishers who I knew had published Laurie Penny and Nina Power, and hurrah! They liked it and accepted it. There was some more editing to do, and my friend Rob Griggs worked on the illustrations - including the beautiful cover.

And today, in the post, this arrived.

Not ashamed to say there were tears in my eyes when I opened the box. I love writing and having a book published has been my ambition ever since I wrote a book about a duck when I was five.

I'm now working on a grown up novel but I feel that Greta, Boris and Kyrie will be going on some more adventures soon.

You can pre-order Greta and Boris: a daring rescue on Amazon and it will be published on 29 March 2013.

If you are an agent and would like to represent me, please get in touch. As I say, I'm working on another book and will be writing a sequel for G&B soon so give me a shout!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Anonymity for rape defendants - bad idea in 1975, 2010 and now

Anonymity for rape defendants is a bad idea that benefits one key group of people – rapists.

It was a bad idea in 1975, when it was how rape cases were conducted. In 1975, lest we forget, men still had the legal right to rape their wives (they had this right until 1990). It was a bad idea in 2010 when the new coalition government tried to bring it back into law. And it will be a bad idea now, as the Chair of the Bar Council in England argues for it again.

Anonymity for rape defendants, and only for rape defendants, is a policy that has its roots solely in misogyny. It is a policy based on the belief that women routinely and maliciously lie about rape in a way that no other crime gets lied about. But this belief is entirely false.

The idea is justified by its supporters because of the stigma of a rape accusation. But if that was really the case, then anonymity would apply to all violent crime. There is stigma attached to an accusation of murder. No crime carries more stigma than child abuse (I’ll argue later as to why all these crimes should carry a stigma). The only reason rape is singled out is because of this pernicious belief that women are just making it up in order to hurt men.

But we know this isn’t true. Earlier this year the latest stats on rape and sexual violence were released. They found that 500,000 people had experienced sexual violence, including 69,000 women raped. They also found that only 2910 incidents were reported and only 1070 led to conviction. We also know that false accusations of rape make up about 3% of reported rapes. This number is no more than false accusations of any other crime.

So the facts tell us that rape is a huge problem affecting tens of thousands of women every year, and that, whilst awful, false accusations are a small problem affecting a handful of men each year.

But our perception is very different. The perception – fuelled by media reporting and a terribly low conviction rate – is that women routinely lie about rape and therefore something must be done to punish women. When instead, I believe we need to be taking steps to encourage a higher reporting rate and a higher conviction rate.

The evidence is there to prove that naming rape defendants is a sensible policy that encourages reporting and that leads to convictions. We can see from the statistics that rape reporting is low. However, when a prolific rapist is named, like John Worboys, it helps women who have been attacked by him feel confident to come forward. Once his identity was known, around 70 women came forward reporting attacks – reports that helped convict him. These women might have come forward before and not been believed, or they might have not come forward for all the reasons why women don’t feel able to report rape. Many of us don’t always realise that rapists might rape more than once. Therefore victims might feel alone, isolated and, thanks to rape culture, start blaming themselves. Understanding that he was attacking other women, that he was a serial rapist helped women feel able to go to the police and report it. Naming Worboys meant that he was finally, after years of terrorising women, convicted.

If he hadn’t been named, he might still be attacking women today. The police might still be dismissing reports – which they did at the time.

Worboys is just one example – there are many, many more. But if anonymity for rape defendants had been in place in 2007 the simple truth is it would have benefited him and it would have harmed the tens of women he attacked.

The argument that we should have anonymity because there is a ‘stigma’ attached to an accusation of rape is quite frankly stupid. Of course there should be a stigma attached to an accusation of rape – just as there should be a stigma attached to all the crimes I’ve mentioned. Rape is a horrible, violent crime deliberately committed against another person. It is a crime that can lead to PTSD, serious mental and physical health problems and much more. It is a crime that can lead to suicide, as we have so tragically seen over the last few weeks.

One would hope that attaching a stigma to such a terrible crime would reduce offending rates. However as the rape stats show, we all too often let rapists attack women with impunity. We let rapists get away with it more than 90% of the time. How else was Unilad able to write that rape made ‘pretty good odds’ when the reporting rate was so low?

We need to make sure there is more of a stigma attached to rape, not less. Anonymity suggests that it’s more important to protect the reputation of rapists than it is to protect the lives of women. I know that it is “justified” in order to protect the falsely accused men but the fact is there are far, far more rapists and far, far more rape victims than there are men who are falsely accused.

If we were really concerned about the rights of the false accused (as of course we should be – that is why it is recognised as a serious crime), then we wouldn’t be singling out rape. The only reason rape is singled out is the simple, misogynistic belief that women lie. That women just make this stuff up. And we know that this is untrue.

The other argument is that because we allow anonymity for victims and survivors of rape, defendants should get the same. But this is simply ridiculous. A victim has not been accused of any crime. Naming her will not help convict her rapist. And if we think there’s a stigma attached to the accused, then god knows we’ve seen what the impact of naming a victim can have. When the woman who was raped by Ched Evans was named online she was eventually forced to flee from her home after being bombarded with death threats. She was twice victimised because quite frankly, in that case, there seemed to be no stigma at all attached to being a convicted rapist.

This is a proposal that panders to the tabloid press who gleefully report failed convictions as ‘false accusations’ (even when the women has not been charged or convicted with that crime – e.g. Diallo). It’s a proposal that upholds misogynistic beliefs that rape isn’t that common and that what is common is women lying about rape. All the evidence, all the statistics show this to be factually incorrect. So much of the evidence proves that naming rape defendants helps encourage reporting and leads to convictions.

We cannot propose or make laws based on women-hating myths. We’re in a real crisis of violence against women in this country. There are 500,000 sexual assaults every year including 69,000 women raped and yet there are only 1070 convictions. Only 2910 reported. This is not the time to be making laws that protect alleged rapists. This is the time to be doing everything we can possibly do to end violence against women and girls. This is the time to be doing everything we can to create an environment where women and girls feel confident reporting rape to the police – confident that they will be listened to, believed and that their rapist will go to jail.

In 2010 Parliament threw out the bill that proposed anonymity for rape defendants based on all the ideas I talk about here.

Let’s keep it that way.

Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999
National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

Saturday, 16 February 2013

One Billion Rising, men, feminism and who gets a cookie

On Thursday, I joined hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of women across the world in a mass movement to protest violence against women and girls – One Billion Rising. Bristol had a number of flashmobs in the day and BFN organised one in the evening – it was a great moment of joined up activism with other groups in the city so that an event would be accessible to everyone who wanted to be involved.

As the stereo system was set up, I jumped up on to a bench and shouted as loud as I could ‘today we are rising against violence against women, against the 130 rapes that happen in Bristol every month, the 69,000 rapes that happen in the UK every year…we rise with our sisters in Afghanistan, Hong Kong, the Congo, Europe, America, London…’ It went something like that anyway. I made it up as I went along! Then, two minutes later the music started – Sisters are doing it for themselves. A troupe of stunning hula hoop dancers took to the square, I jumped up and down and people tentatively joined in with the dance. Some women didn’t dance at all, some bopped on the spot, but we were there, together. It only lasted half an hour, but as with every feminist action I’ve been on, I felt that surge of pride that we were here, together, making a stand against violence against women and girls. As I watched the live blog on the Guardian later on that evening and saw the women dancing and marching all over the globe, hundreds, thousands of women, men by their sides, I felt proud to be connected to such a powerful, global moment – a feminist past, present and future.

Men were there in Bristol too. One guy was holding his baby whilst his partner danced. And another guy came over to me and complained that it felt like it was all about women, that we were playing music by women and making it all about women. He told me that men cared about violence too and shouldn’t be excluded.

Of course, men weren’t excluded. He was there. But it made me think about how some men engage with the feminist movement and problems that can then arise for them.

There are lots of amazing men who identify as feminists who don’t seem to feel excluded by women-centred events and also understand the necessity of women-only events (which this wasn’t). But there are also some men who seem to engage with the feminist movement whilst perhaps not understanding or feeling comfortable with the fact that sometimes the issue under the spotlight will be focused on women. And so I wanted to write this, in part in response to that guy and in part to explore how I feel about men and feminism.

Across the globe, one billion women will experience gender based violence – from rape to FGM to assault to domestic abuse to murder. These crimes are committed against women because they are women. This is an issue about women and so One Billion Rising – whilst a mixed event – was still an event focused on women.

When women come together to protest the violence committed against us, we may want to do that alone. We may want to rise as self-identified women together, creating a strong and safe women-only space. We may want to just hear women’s voices, telling our stories, giving our stories a priority in a culture that is all too often male-dominated. I personally don’t understand how a man can identify as a feminist and not accept women-only space. I feel this particularly in the context of creating a safe space to talk about an issue like violence against women – an issue where women are so often silenced. I don’t know how people might feel about that or whether men who identify as feminists might feel differently than me. Our policy when we have had women-only events at BFN is to encourage men to self-organise on that issue in an act of solidarity or to create a space for men to explore these issues too. For me, I should add, women only space means a safe space for all self-identified women.

On other occasions, women and men might want to come together to protest gender based violence – as was the case on Thursday. But even then, it is still probably going to be women-centred, women-led. Because we’re coming together to act to end violence against women. We’re making a statement about how this misogynistic violence has to end. And sometimes, like on Thursday, we might want men to stand in solidarity with our anger, our sadness, our determination. We might want men to join in with that anger and determination. We might want men to listen. We might want men to act too, to voice their anger, to commit to change. After all, to end violence committed against women by some men, we need men onside. Men who can challenge the causes of violence, men who can challenge rape culture, men who can support the fight to end violence.

But an event like One Billion Rising is still going to be about women because at its core it is about women reclaiming our bodies, making a statement and refusing to be hidden or silenced against violence that is often used to oppress and silence. 

What we don’t need is men wanting some kind of reward for their presence. What we don’t need is men wanting to be recognised for being ‘against violence’. And we certainly don’t need men telling us what the ‘real issue’ is here.

Because, frankly? You don’t get and you shouldn’t expect a cookie for saying you disagree with violence against women.  I mean, that should just be standard.

I don’t know why there weren’t more men there on Thursday. The event was advertised to a mixed group. Maybe there weren’t many men there because they thought this was about women rising up against violence, raising our voices as women, reclaiming our bodies as women. Maybe some men stayed at home with their children whilst their partners went out. Or maybe it just wasn’t an event that interested men. I don’t know. But as much as I believe men should be and must be part of feminism, my priority is always making sure women and girls are included and women’s voices are heard. Feminism is a movement that benefits men and women but it is also a movement where we can and must hear women’s voices.

Again, this is from someone who believes that men can be and should be feminists. I believe we do need to move forward together. I really do believe that, I don’t just say it for men to like me! And I know lots of great men feminists who get it, who respect the need for women’s spaces and the need to hear, really hear, women’s voices.

I just wanted to finish on the music point. The music collated by my BFN colleague and inspired by the One Billion Rising suggested playlist included Sisters are doing it for themselves, Respect, One Thing, I will survive, I’m every woman and Girls just want to have fun. Having music by women singing about being women doesn’t exclude men. It just meant that for half an hour we only heard women’s voices. Every day I listen to the radio, watch TV, read newspaper articles and can go for hours without hearing (or seeing) a woman’s voice in our cultural landscape. For half an hour, we didn’t hear a man’s voice. It was important to have women’s voices singing through the speakers because this was an event about women.

If your a man and you feel excluded because for half an hour you didn’t hear a man’s voice, then it’s time to think how women might feel every single day. And then maybe think about why we were rising in the first place. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Her name was Reeva Steenkamp: a letter to the Sun

I'm sending this letter to the editor of The Sun and the PCC regarding the horrible cover on 15th February

You can sign the petition regarding the cover here.

Please copy and paste this letter if you want to use it,

Dear Dominic Mohan,

Her name was Reeva Steenkamp. Her name was not ‘Pistorius’s lover’. She had her own name, her own identity. She was not just defined by her relationship to a man. 

She was a woman, a model, a law graduate, a woman who spoke out against violence against women. She was not just a sex object in a bikini.

Why then, does your cover on Friday 15 February reduce her to these things? 

This is a news story about a man who has been charged with murdering Reeva Steenkamp. It is not a story about sporting success, it is not a story about sexiness. 

Your presentation of this news story sexualises violence against women and girls. You’re juxtaposing murder and sexiness. There is nothing sexy about this terrible crime. There is nothing sexy about a man killing a woman. There is simply no reason to illustrate this tragic story with such a highly sexualised image. This is a news story about a murder. There’s nothing pretty about that.  

I believe your paper needs to apologise for ignoring that Reeva Steenkamp had a name. I believe you also need to apologise for your consistent attempts to sexualise violence against women and girls – highlighted at the Leveson Inquiry. In this case your paper has chosen to ‘sex-up’ the murder of a young woman called Reeva Steenkamp.

I will also be sending a version of this letter to the Press Complaints Commission.


This post has now been quoted, but not linked to, in The Week

Sunday, 10 February 2013

I dreamed a dream: thoughts on equal marriage

When I was eight years old, I learnt about Martin Luther King’s ‘I had a dream’ speech at school. As part of our learning, we were asked to draw and write what we would include in our speech if we were to make it today (today being 1993).

At this point, my mum had been with her partner for four years. Twenty years later, they’re still together. But it was around the age of 8 that I started to realise that not all families who didn’t live with their dad had two mums instead. It was also around this age that I began to understand that having two mums instead was not always smiled upon by the rest of the world.

So, burgeoning political noise-maker that I was at eight, I drew a picture of two women sat in bed together with two children and I wrote:

I have a dream that two women will be able to live in the same house and sleep in the same bed and no-one will mind.’

My poor mother. I fear she was rather mortified at being so conclusively outed by her eight year old political daughter. But she never said anything. I think it was more important to hide any embarrassment than to let me see that other people might think there was something to be embarrassed by.

Well. This week, when ‘the ayes had it’, I remembered this long-forgotten episode and tears welled in my eyes. They’re welling now, actually. Because this week, that dream I had as an eight year old girl came a step, maybe even a leap, closer to coming true.

As I say, and as regular readers will know, my parents split up when I was four and I was raised by my mum and her partner, with regular access and a good relationship with my dad and his wife.

Since then, I went to school during Section 28 and learnt that it was thought by teachers that talking about a family like mine was illegal. There was never any discussion in all my school years that a family could look like mine, or even that it was ok for a family to look like mine. Section 28 was repealed in November 2003 – my final year of Sixth Form. It is difficult to explain just how damaging that law was for gay children who were made to feel completely invisible, made to feel like their lives were shameful and hidden. It is difficult to explain how, as a child in a gay family, you could be made to feel that your family simply doesn’t exist.

So when they repealed Section 28 it was too late for my schooling but a fantastic step towards ending an institutionalised homophobia that so effectively silenced and isolated young people.

That was Section 28. Throughout my childhood It was still illegal for gay people to adopt. It was still illegal for gay men to have consensual sex aged 16, the same age as a straight couple. There were so many laws that silenced, discriminated against and made miserable the lives of gay people. Then, throughout the Labour years, most of those laws went away. Section 28 in 2003, allowing gay and lesbian people in the military in 2000, equalising age of consent laws in 2001, adoption in 2002, civil partnerships in 2005. It all happened very quickly in lots of ways. It all happened when I was a teenager (except civil partnerships).

And now, marriage in 2013.

There has been a lot of very publicly aired homophobia in the news as a result of the equal marriage debates. The same old arguments that were trotted out when adoption was made accessible were there. It’s the same thing about how marriage is between a man and a woman, how we can’t re-define marriage to meet social mores, how it was Adam and Steve – no wait – Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden not Adam and Steve as one MP now famously confused it. There was a lot of talk about how marriage is for procreation – ignoring the fact that people who can’t have or don’t want kids get married and how lesbian and gay couples can have kids too. I feel particularly infuriated when the children argument comes up as no-one bothers to ask me how I feel about being an adult who was raised from childhood in a gay family. Everyone appears to have an opinion on me but no-one wants to hear an actual, informed opinion it seems.

There was not one single argument against equal marriage (as opposed to marriage full stop) that was not based on a homophobic belief. The MPs who prefaced each homophobic argument with an explanation of how they weren’t homophobic were lying. If they believe that some people are not entitled to equality because of who they fall in love with, then they are homophobic. So long as marriage is what we have, then everyone who wants to, who is in a legal (i.e not underage etc.) consensual relationship, should be entitled to marry if that is what they choose to do.

Because otherwise what do we have? A tired and tiered system that privileges one type of relationship over another simply because it includes a man and a woman. It doesn’t matter how loving, how caring, how committed, how fun, how flyaway the relationship. The law as it stood stated that every straight relationship was worthy of more rights than every gay relationship. And that is not ok. This week told us that it is not ok.

One of the homophobic views aired is that equal marriage is about re-defining marriage. But marriage is always being re-defined. In the past, marriage was not about love. It was about treating women as a piece of property to be exchanged between men. Men who had the power. It was also about creating sons – a marital requirement that in one way or another led to the deaths of many, many women. In 18th century England, girls as young as 12 were married off to older men in property deals that took no care or consideration to the rights of girls or women. So you could say in 1882, when the Married Women’s Property Act came into place, we re-defined marriage then!

Somewhere along the way in the UK, somewhere between marriage as a property exchange and marriage as we see it now, we decided that marriage was about love. We re-defined marriage at that point. We decided that marriage was about publicly expressing your love for another person. Whether you choose to do that is not really the point – I’m not married for example. The point is that as a woman in a straight relationship, I had a choice to make that public statement. For too long, that has been a choice denied to too many people – including my own family. Now we all have that choice. We can all choose to embrace or reject the idea of marriage.

To me, so long as we re-defined marriage to be about love (not property, not children), then it was wrong to exclude people who are in love from being part of it. It was wrong.

Over the last few days I have reflected a lot on the homophobia that I witnessed as a child and that I experienced throughout my life. I am proud of what we achieved as a society on Tuesday. I am proud that the children in my gay friends’ relationship don’t have to go to school where they are invisible. I am proud that they will grow up learning that their families are equal to all other families. 

This week, the dream I dreamed at eight years old came a little bit truer. We are getting ever closer to the day when two women can live in the same house and sleep in the same bed, and people won’t mind.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Bristol Women's Literature Festival - nearly here!

Some of the literary scene’s brightest stars will be arriving in Bristol this spring to join a unique festival that celebrates women’s writing. 

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival aims to celebrate the work of women writers working today and throughout history. It brings together the diverse and exciting talent of women writers, academics and activists to showcase our fantastic literary heritage. 

The fascinating and varied programme features Orange prize winning novelist Helen Dunmore, Stonewall Writer of the Year Stella Duffy, celebrated academic Professor Helen Taylor, screenwriter Emilia di Girolamo, feminist writer Kristin Aune and many, many more. These women are, without doubt, some of the most influential and vibrant writers working today. 

The festival takes place across the weekend of 16th and 17th March at famous Bristol arts venue, the Watershed. Organised by feminist writer Siân Norris and chaired by writer, broadcaster and journalist Bidisha, the event aims to celebrate the work of women writers in a literary scene that is all too often dominated by male voices. 

The programme

The festival opens with a talk from TV screenwriter Emilia di Girolamo (Law and Order UK, The Poison Tree). She will be talking to Bidisha about how she has brought feminist discussions such as violence against women and girls to a mainstream TV audience – challenging perceptions of the issue in an accessible way. Her talk will include a screening of her work. 

In the afternoon Bidisha will be joined in conversation by Helen Dunmore, Stella Duffy, Selma Dabbagh and Beatrice Hitchman. The women will be reading from their work, before discussing their own careers and the issues facing women writing today. 

Sunday opens with a talk from some of the UK’s leading literature and history academics. Professor Helen Hackett, Professor Helen Taylor, Professor Joan Adim-Addo, Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts, Dr Charlotte Crofts and celebrated historian Kate Williams will talk about the role of women writers and patrons throughout history, and women’s place in the literary canon. 

The festival closes with a discussion with some of the most exciting and influential feminist writers working today, Kristin Aune, Debi Withers and Josephine Tsui. They will talk about how they are bringing feminism out of the ivory tower of academia, and how new media such as blogging is bringing feminism to a new and wider audience. 

Why do we need a women’s literature festival?

Although women have always written and always read, the UK literature scene continues to be very male dominated. Research conducted by UK Feminista in 2010 found that only 38% of the writers nominated for the Booker were women, and, despite women’s success in the prize this year, by 2010, 70% of the winners of the Costa Novel of the Year have been men.  A survey by For Books’ Sake revealed that at Manchester Literature festival, only 20 out of 74 speakers were women, whilst at the Latitude Literary Area, women made up 15 of 53 performers.

The festival’s founder, Siân Norris, explains:

I decided it wasn’t enough to be frustrated at the continued marginalisation of women writers in our cultural scene. I needed to do something about it. The response I have had has been phenomenal. Everyone wants to be part of this festival. This is a real and vital opportunity to talk about women’s writing and women’s role in shaping and influencing our culture – both historically and in the present. It really is one of the most exciting projects I have been involved in and I am so proud to be part of it and delighted that Watershed will be hosting it.’

The festival is supported by Watershed, Foyles and The Bristol Festival of Ideas. 

Vital info
When? Saturday 16th – Sunday 17th March 2013
Where? Watershed, Bristol
How much? Individual events are priced at £7 (£6 concession) with a weekend ticket available for £25 (£20 concession. Please note there are a limited number of weekend tickets). Tickets are on sale at the Watershed Box Office and website.

If you want to support the Bristol Women's Literature Festival AND you like bags, then you are in luck! Designed by Rob Griggs and printed by Daniel Le Guilcher, these limited edition, original screen print, totally gorgeous bags are perfect for carrying your books to and from the festival.

At just £5, you can buy these bags at the festival, at fundraiser events and online for just £5 (70p postage). 

And don't forget, you can buy your tickets from Watershed or by calling the box office on 0117 927 5100