I spent last weekend in Bristol at UK Feminista’s Summer School 2012, staying with my good friend MadamJMo.
After last year’s Summer School, I came away buzzing with energy and excitement about the future of feminism; this year though, I feel very different.
It’s no reflection at all on UK Feminista or the hard work and organisation of their many activists, volunteers and speakers. Despite a much lower turn-out and a building-site for a venue, the conference was varied, interesting, well-organised, and for all intents and purposes very similar to last year’s event. Equally, it was wonderfully reassuring and encouraging, as always, to spend time in a room full of like-minded feminists for the weekend. Yet it felt, somehow, a bit flat. There was a real consciousness that things have only got harder since last year – the sustained attack on our abortion rights, the impact of the cuts on women, repeated high-profile incidents of victim-blaming and rape apologism, and a reshuffle which looks set to only make the situation worse.
There was a lot of talk about how feminism makes us feel – liberated, excited, empowered, angry. All those still very much apply, of course, but lately feminism has done a lot of making me feel jaded, weary, isolated, disheartened, and frustrated. I can’t help but wonder if that sense of futility played a part in the change of atmosphere for other people too. Of course there were some really positive, useful discussions, particularly during the open space sessions, but I came away feeling mentally exhausted. Even within feminist circles I’m endlessly frustrated about the debates on whether we need to go out of our way to engage men who aren’t interested in engaging, or to rebrand feminism to make the name sound more palatable.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. My highlight of the weekend was the Saturday evening entertainment, provided by What The Frock! comedy. Comedians Kate Smurthwaite, Angie Belcher, Bethany Black and Danielle Ward were a wonderfully uplifting part of the weekend, giving some much-needed light relief in performances which covered topics from feminism and politics, to sex and personal grooming.
Another highlight was meeting Maid of Orleans Prints, a brand new Bristol-based business, printing T-shirts of their “sheroes, heroes & queeros”. The excellent suffragette T-shirt I bought from them is currently serving as a useful reminder of why all this frustration and exhaustion really is worth it. Life keeps getting in the way, and I don’t expect that to change, but I’m looking forward to the new allies and activism that London has in store.