This weekend was UK Feminista’s annual conference. This is not the first time that I have spent a weekend away at a UK Feminista event: in the summer I attended Summer School in Birmingham (www.glasgowfeministnetwork.org.uk/blog/summer-school-take-two/) and I hoped that the conference would be more of the same.
Held in central London the proceedings started with UK Feminista’s founder Kat Banyard giving a rallying opening speech about feminism today, which included urging us to support local occupy movements. Also giving opening remarks was Sandi Toksvig, who followed proudly declaring that she was a feminist by doing a very funny turn on the invisibility of women throughout history and literature. My only small complaint, which I think was shared amongst other conference goers, was the emphasis on pop science to explain the biological differences between women and men. Although sometimes amusing the hints of biological reductivism and old school gender stereotyping sat uncomfortably with a conference full of feminists.
I attended the morning workshop on body image by Endangered. This was a great (and completely packed workshop) on their new campaign ‘Ditch the Dieting’. The workshop was short on campaign details but huge on participation in the form of an audience ‘speak out’ about their own experiences of body image especially in relation to dieting. Most of these stories were similar; some were funny but others were shocking and upsetting, including testimonies from women suffering eating disorders. Most women seemed to feel damaged by the diet industry and the constant negative messages about weight and their looks. It was moving to see what was a slow workshop to begin with become a harmony of outrage at the diet industry and media. The important message from this session was that the negativity we all seemed to have internalised about our bodies is harmful, hateful and needs to be ignored. As a representative from Endangered said this wasn’t some flimsy issue about girl’s magazines this is a serious concern that harms women. Endangered has some great videos and resources on their website and I urge you to have a look: http://www.endangeredspecieswomen.org.uk/
After lunch (of Krispy Kremes – making full use of being in London!) I attended White Ribbon’s session on engaging men in feminism. This was an interesting session although it was short on input from the White Ribbon representative and focused more on (much too large) discussion groups. White Ribbon has an annual day of Activism on the 25th of November. For more information see their website: http://www.whiteribboncampaign.co.uk/
The most overwhelming thing about UK Feminista’s conference, as with their Summer School, is the opportunity to meet so many other feminists. Sometime being a feminist can be isolating as I regularly come into contact with people who subscribe to negative myths and stereotypes. However, this conference has a feeling of a safe space where everyone broadly thinks along similar lines. Liberty’s director Shami Chakrabarti used this bravely during the panel session by being willing to air her doubts and unanswered questions to push the boundaries of agreement in the room.
The panel session was followed by a London Mayoral hustings (with the notably absence of Boris). As a Scot on my 4th visit to London, who is still confused by where the tube goes never mind the transport policies behind it, I didn’t think I would be too interested in this session. However I stuck around for the big names of Ken, Brian and the impeccable chair Samira Ahmed and found it quite interesting to see political big hitters questioned on important feminist issues. Another interesting experience for me was adventures on twitter (ScotFeminista). I’m a total Twitter novice but it’s fantastically addictive. It was great to see when a comment particularly hit home by the number of re-tweets. For instance ‘The problem with the government isn’t that they’re not women, it’s that they’re Tories” (damn straight Zoe Williams).
UK Feminista’s conference was less practically minded than Summer School which left me with a fantastic tool kit of ideas to take back to Glasgow. Nonetheless, having open and important feminist discussions with 1000 similarly minded women is always worth the train ride!