Lennie Goodings, publisher at Virago Press, chairs a fantastic event focused on feminism. To a mixed audience (which is encouraging to see) Goodings states there is no gender above another and that feminism “wants to see the best for everyone” and “anyone right-minded should call themselves a feminist”.
Crime writer Val McDermid takes the stage first with an excellent opening, saying that when asked why she is a feminist she says: “well, duh”. She speaks of growing up in Fife which was very inclusive and being taught by her father that everyone was as good as everyone else and anyone can be what they want to be. However, the bowling club did have restricted times for female bowlers which McDermid’s mother fought tirelessly to change – which she eventually did. Val came to realise that not everywhere was like Fife but things have changed for the better and change is happening in a positive way. She talks of revenge porn, and online misogyny but also of the positives such as the everyday sexism hashtag and the wonderful way Scottish politicians respect each other. She finishes with the fantastic line “I’m a feminist because I like to be on the winning side.”.
Novelist Andrew O’Hagan then takes the stage to tell a tale of the bizarrely titled ‘Whatever Women Want’ shop that appeared in his home town and to recite a brilliant poem he had penned called ‘No Son Of Mine’ which features the possibly controversial line “serial killer in drag” when referring Margaret Thatcher.
Novelist and winner of the campaigner of the year away Caroline Criado-Perez then spoke on how until she was 25 she used to view women as “lesser beings” and just thought she was the exception. When she pictured people in power she saw men, this mental world made her see women as these lesser beings but she now fights to stop the underrepresented image of woman (she was the one who persuaded the government to put a woman onto a ten pound note). Her final statement “I’m a feminist because women are human beings” rings true of the whole event.
Poet, writer, and activist Natasha Kanape Fontaine comes to the Book Festival from Canada in her first ever event in English, yet recites a beautiful poem named ‘The Queen’s Children’ in a such a beautiful way that you would never have known.
Author Christopher Brookmyre brings great humour to the event as he tears down the misogynistic website brightbark.com which uses SJW – Social Justice Warrior – as an insult. He goes on to flip the “compliments” men give women on its head as he spins a tale of Tom who works in an all gay workplace and undergoes the same treatment a woman would get in an all male workplace. Brilliantly funny and really proves his point.
Playwright Jo Clifford tells anecdotes from her life as an openly transgendered woman. She speaks of how once she began living as a woman she was “treated like a half-wit” and provides a wonderfully theatrical performance of why she is a feminist.
Poet and publisher for Jonathan Cape, Robin Robertson, discusses how feminism is about equality and recites his poem about inequality which is fantastically dark and brilliantly told.
Activist Emma Laurie did not want to be seen as a feminist until she went to Tanzania for her PHD. She tells of a woman who endured being beaten to get her child money to go to hospital and of another who prostituted herself to do the same. Laurie speaks of how privileged she knows she is and how wrong it felt to be becoming a doctor off the backs of these oppressed women, but she says the only thing worse than a privileged Western white woman speaking out is a privileged Western white woman who does not.
Actor and stand-up comic Nish Kumar admits he did not feel good enough to be there and speaks of his family who are from India and are very matriarchal. In their society the surname and wealth of the women are passed down and all woman are “formidable” which, as he says, means “absolutely terrifying”. Kumar speaks a great truth when he says that there is a great difference of how male and female comedians are judged, men just need to be funny yet the women are judged on their looks and not just on their comedy value. He finishes with an anecdote of a female interviewer being shocked that he was influenced by female comedians, reiterating the point why feminism is needed.
Elif Shafak is last to take the stage. The Turkish author tells of her mother, a young, uneducated woman who was a lower class citizen because of this and was to be married off to an older man. Shafak’s grandmother said no and helped her daughter go back to university and get somewhere in life. Shafak remembers those who struggled and who did not have the opportunities women have today. She highlights that while it is not easy being a woman in a patriarchal society it is also not easy to be a man.
The term feminist is constantly demonised and misunderstood but as this highly interesting and relevant event has shown, feminism is important and necessary in creating the equal society everyone deserves.