Last night I attended the Un-Conventional Women event at Manchester Art Gallery. I’m so thrilled I picked up a ticket for this. I actually managed to triple book myself in various events last night, but in the end decided that I wanted to see this one more than any other. I’m now convinced that I made the right choice.
By women, for women
The first thing I wrote in my notebook, as I sat waiting for the testimonies of the three imprisoned Pussy Riot members to be read out, was this:
What joy to sit surrounded by scores of intelligent, interested, beautiful women. Young, old, tall, short, queer and straight. So happy to be here.
The event was organised by Un-Convention and In Place of War in recognition of International Women’s Day (March 8th ie today, yay!). 2013 also marks the centenary of a suffragette attack on Manchester Art Gallery, in which three women damaged a number of paintings, in protest of Emmeline Pankhurt’s sentencing. The event last night drew parallels between their political act, and that of Pussy Riot’s, but it was also very much a celebration of women’s rights, and of encouraging us to keep struggling for that.
I really enjoyed the format of the evening, which was a mix of the aforementioned testimonies – difficult and inspiring to sit through – poetry and spoken word, live music, and a panel discussion of the issues that had been raised during the evening.
The first speaker was Alex Keelan, who read some lovely, thought-provoking poetry. I’ve found a video of her reading my favourite poem she read out, which imagines a brighter world for women a hundred years from now:
“I’m not a feminist”
Next came the panel discussion, which involved a lot of discussion about Pussy Riot, the erosion of and struggle for women’s rights, and what it means to be a feminist. I’m always surprised by women who refuse to label themselves as such, and I wonder whether they do so out of ignorance, wilful misunderstanding or a desire to fit in and not rock the boat. It brought to mind an exchange I had recently with a guy on okcupid. My profile states that I’m not interested in talking to people who aren’t feminists. To me, this means I believe that only people who believe in equal rights are worth my time. Say what you want about feminism, define it however you like: to me it is about equality for women. That simple.
This gentleman had taken my simple request for equal consideration as an example of my own hypocritical intolerance, and boy did he ever let me know it. And rather than straight out asking me what I thought of feminism or what I meant by asking only feminists to contact me, he slipped in sly sarcastic comments and rude inferences that, being an intelligent person and an experienced reader with an eye for satire, I was able to pick up on. But the thought of not having noticed, of this smug, self-satisfied man sitting at his computer judging me and thinking he’d ‘got one over on me’ made me furious.
A musical interlude
After the panel, we had some music from the seemingly fearless She Makes War (aka Laura Kidd). Her performance was incredibly energetic and I was caught up in her passion and enthusiasm. Again, I’ll let her music speak for itself:
I really recommend giving her a listen or two. If you like it, her albums are available for the price of pay-what-you-want on her website. Excellent!
A poet and an activist
There was a lot of discussion also about art and politics, where the two intersect, and if they’re ever really separate. Steph Pike, often introduced and described as ‘a poet and activist’ illustrates the two working together perfectly. I had the pleasure of performing in the same event as Steph the other week at the Million Women Rise fundraiser and it was great to see her reading again.
Last, but certainly not least (if anything, surely all the performers and readers last night were as equal as we could hope for?) was a set by singer/songwriter Liz Green. I had never heard of Liz before stumbling across the arrangement for this event and am delighted to have discovered her music now. Her songs were clever, honest and hugely compassionate, and I can say without the slightest trace of exaggeration that her performance of Displacement Song brought me to tears.
Another artist that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
This was a terrific night in a brilliant venue. I’ll be making more effort to get along to Thursday Lates at the art gallery more often, and in the meantime I have a lot of thinky thoughts ticking over in my head about feminism, sex education and all sorts. I’m sure those will all float up to the surface soon.
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone. To the women, please take today to love yourself and the women around you. To the men, take a moment to appreciate the women in your life. To everyone else: you could do worse than taking a day to love yourself too.