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Roll on Fem12

Claire Poyner reports from this year's huge feminist gathering in London

UK Feminsta was founded in 2010 and Fem11, the national conference held on 12 November at Friends House, London was a gathering of over 1000 feminists. Mostly women with a smattering of men, and for the most part, women who don’t appear to meet the stereotype which may be responsible for some, particularly younger women, to proclaim: “I’m not a feminist”.

The keynote speaker was a very popular Sandy Toksvig who bemoaned the lack of suitable role model in children’s literature – “If Rapunzel had hair long enough for a prince to climb up, couldn’t she have fashioned a rope out of her hair to escape?” Also criticised: the way female role models were re-fashioned to make them more ‘respectable’. Did you know that Florence Nightingale was known amongst the injured soldiers as the “Lady with the hammer” (NOT the lamp) because she smashed open a cupboard containing drugs meant for the senior military only?

Other speakers included Roxanne Halsey of UK Uncut – cuts is a feminist issue after all – Bjorn Sttka from the Anti-Porn Men Project, Isabella Woolford Diaz from Camden School for Girls Feminist Group (“my school made me a feminist”!) who told of getting Tesco to put the “men’s mags” out of sight, and Cllr Rania Khan, a science teacher and independent councillor in Tower Hamlets who campaigns against lap dancing clubs in her area, especially after she was sexually harassed by a group of men leaving such a club.

The afternoon session I attended on building for International Women’s Day 2012 was excellent. The need for more publicity for the day was evident. In some countries women get the day off work! In others, flowers and chocolates are given to the women of the house. Do we want Hallmark to commercialise the day by bringing out Happy IWD cards? Balance that against the fact that few people in the UK have heard of it.

A feminist question time strictly chaired by Rania Khan – who is my heroine of the day – included Shami Chakrabarti, Bea Campbell (who is starting to look disconcertingly like Melanie Phillips – sorry Bea!), _Guardian_ columnist Zoe Williams, Carlene Firmin who leads the Female Voice in Violence research programme, which assesses the impact of gangs and serious youth violence on women and girls, and Matt McCormack Evans, founder of the Anti-Porn Men Project.

Finally there was a mayoral hustings without Boris whose advisors clearly don’t think women’s votes are worth going after (or maybe they think it’s a lost cause). Brian Paddick appeared as a well-instructed LibDem candidate who walked the LibDem walk and definitely talked like a LibDem but seems to be a thoroughly decent man. Natalie Bennett stood in for Green candidate Jenny Jones and Ken Livingstone was same as ever.

Several demos were flagged up: the Fawcett Society’s ‘don’t turn back time’ on women’s equality demo on 19th November campaigning against cuts which hurt women more. And the Muff March on Harley Street, London, to campaign against labiaplasty surgery on 10 December.

Campaigning on IWD: http://www.womenforwomen.org.uk/
Women’s equality campaigning: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/
Muff March: http://ukfeminista.org.uk/events/event/muff-march/

Topics: Reportage | Feminism