I was so excited to be running a workshop at the Women’s Voice Women’s Votes Festival for women at the University of Suffolk. I didn’t know what to expect before I arrived, but WOW it was something else.
Feminist conferences have a terrible and often deserved reputation of being full of white middle class women, just like me. But this was completely different, such a huge age range and diversity, children and even a fe men. They had an amazing programme lined up which was all about celebrating women as well recognising the challenges still facing women today. There was music, drama and art, workshops on singing, law, economics and everything in between. What a HUGE achievement for the coordinating group, I was so proud to be part of it. Thank you so much.
photo credit to @wollyvix
It was great to be back at the London School of Economics and Politics again running a day-long workshop for Masters students on Gender Budgeting for Change and Campaigning for Change. They are such a fantastic group of people to work with – challenging and enthusiastic, my favourite type of participant!
In February I took part in a 2.5 day innovation process to help Oxfam come up with some great ideas for how to solve women’s poverty. It was amazing, exhausting and emotional. You can see me in my various states of dress in this video below.
Big up to the women from SkillsNet, Marginal Voices and City Gateway Women’s Project. Also look out for my GENIUS idea on a post-it “more bloody money”….
It is always great to have a whole day to work with students, so I was really excited to go up to York and to the Archbishop’s Holgate School. We started with a whole year assembly on gender and gender identity. We talked about sexuality and gender stereotypes using Disney as a prime example. For too long Disney films have produced one dimensional women who rely on men to save them and men whose job it is to go around beating baddies, it was great to be able answer questions about what the difference is between transexuals and transvestites (thanks to Eddie Izzard for support!)
I had had the next two sessions with a group of female students who were really engaged. We looked at relationship progression – from holding hands to having a baby and everything in between. The students got to choose their own relationship progression and discuss it with friends. We looked at consent and role-played saying no and then the students thought up some great ways to say no pressure from other people. Finally we looked at women in the media – looking at the male gaze and then using that to think about when people post pictures of themselves online.
With the lads we looked at sexual name calling – what do words like ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ really mean? Why do we use them? We examined the issue of sexual bullying and harassment in the workplace and the consequences it has to your career. We talked about consent like with the female students and then finally examined porn and the impact it might have on how we feel about our bodies and our sex lives.
It was great to have good long sessions with these young people as it can take a long time to get them to open up around sensitive issues. Thanks for having me Holgate!
I was excited to go to King Alfred school and discuss pornography and sexting. I held an assembly on the issue, which was a bit tricky, but the students were very receptive and we ended up having a good chat.
We examined what porn is, why we might watch it and how we can compare sex in pornography to sex in real life. I tried to make it as unjudgemental as possible – I don’t think you can engage young people in issues like this by telling them something is wrong. We did examine some stories of ex adult movie actors who talked about their struggles and we also talked about orgasms in pornography and how real they were.
The issue of sexting is more black and white – there are many laws that prohibit the sending of sexual images to other people. Releasing pictures of yourself naked can be a minefield and very few young people (or adults!) are prepared for the consequences if these pictures make there way on to the internet which they very often do.
All in all, a fascinating morning!
Last month I was delighted to be invited to join Forward (Foundation for Women’s Health and Development) as an educator on female genital mutilation.
Forward have been working on this issue for decades and working in schools for four years. They run a youth programme working with young people across the country empowering them to speak out about it. Over the last few years the issue of FGM has grown in public consciousness and they have been increasingly asked to give talks in schools.
In order to manage increasing demand, they have employed 15 educators to work across schools in London, I am delighted to be part of that team.
I had great fun doing a two hour workshop with A-Level English Literature students at Oaklands School, Tower Hamlets. We were looking at the male gaze in Jane Eyre which they were studying for their course. This video is an excellent introduction to how the male gaze is used in film.
Of course it didn’t occur to me when I accepted the workshop that of course, Jane Eyre is written from Jane’s perspective. So where does the male gaze occur? It was actually very interesting examining how Jane views herself and in particular what she think Rochester thinks of her. How Rochester views her but also how she views other women. We looked at some of the excellent film adaptations of the novel and how camera angles are used to show Jane’s view. We looked at how the men are presented and ended up in a great discussion on the female gaze – how Jane ends up viewing herself through the eyes of the men around her. Don’t forget, of course, the motif of the mirror which occurs throughout the novel.
I wont give the game away. If you want to know what we concluded then get me in to do a workshop!
Today I’m running a workshop at Highbury Grove School, London on women in the media. This is obviously a broad topic and a lot to cover but in the end I decided to focus on advertising. The aim is to leave these young women of an understanding of how the advertising industry works. How it feeds on our aspirations and insecurities and uses them to make us buy stuff.
Although humans will always aspire to be better than they are. We can temper our expectations and understand what impact the beauty industry has on our self perception.
I’m also going to be looking at how magazines place adverts next to articles exploring these ‘issues’. I want to teach them a healthy cynicism about advertising. We’ll also look at photoshop using this video:
Like most adults in the UK my school sex education was rudimentary. By law, the science curriculum must cover puberty and reproduction and then in secondary school give information about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. I was one of the lucky ones who had a dedicated sex and relationship education class with the brave Mrs Stickland who taught us 13 and 14 year-olds about sex, contraception and consent. Outside of the national curriculum, schools can offer as much or as little as they want but most choose not to and, scarily, 26% of secondary school pupils report getting no sex and relationship education (SRE) at all. Which leaves young people desperate to know more but unable to access reliable sources. A staggering 80% of young people get their sex education from elsewhere…their friends, TV and increasingly pornography.
So what is anyone doing about it? Well an old friend of mine, Sarah, and her husband Matt run a programme in schools in Bury St Edmunds called The Love Life Project. They have been running these workshops for years and I have been promising to come for just as long, so this summer I went back to school…
In terms of my faith, I fall somewhere near agnostic, though has never stopped Sarah and I being friends. I respect people with faith but as a feminist I have found some aspects of religion problematic for women’s rights. The role of the Catholic church in the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Africa, the picketing of abortion clinics by Christian groups and the emphasis by the religious on abstinence though its efficacy is widely questioned has left me wondering what role, if any, religion should have in sex education. So it’s fair to say I approached these two days with a little trepidation.
But my fears were totally unfounded. Sarah and Matt have designed the programme to have minimal faith content. They actively don’t proselytise and apart from discussing the non-religious benefits of abstinence there was no even vaguely Christian content. What their course does have is some great activities that got the young people talking and thinking about sex and relationships. What’s more, as a husband and wife team they come prepared to be totally honest about their love lives, giving examples to the young people of where they made mistakes and what they would do differently.
They warmed up with a discussion of the non-religious reasons for abstinence which got the young people thinking about all sorts of issues. They covered STI transmissions, consent (using this really cool description) and a frank discussion about porn. The truth is, no one is talking to young people about porn. Schools, for fear of seeming to endorse it, tend to ignore the subject totally. But when The LoveLife Project surveyed 13-14 years olds across the Bury St Edmunds they found that 90% of boys cited porn as the most influential factor in their sex education.