Bobbie Hook gives her take on Manchester’s Feminist Fresher’s Fair
Bobbie Hook gives a mixed review of an event she had hoped would showcase the best of feminism in Manchester.
Psychotherapist, academic, novelist, and activist, Olukemi Amala’s talk on intersectional feminism was perhaps the most anticipated, amongst my friends at least, of those speaking at Manchester’s Feminist Fresher’s Fair. Yet since the disabled access lift had broken it had to be experienced over the sounds of the streets as we squeezed in to hear her talk in the smoking area outside 2022NQ, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
It was an awkward end to a turbulent evening at the fair. The event was, to begin with, relaxed with people dropping in and out. I dropped in just as Andrew Simock of the Manchester City Council was finishing up his talk on ‘Womanchester’, the project to fund a new statue of a significant Mancunian woman in a significant public space (seewomanchesterstatue.org, it’s quite pink).
Questions were put to the floor and Simock was interrogated as a representative of Manchester City Council and its alleged misogyny and ill treatment of homeless women. While I don’t know a huge amount about this I’m assuming the individual who put the question forward was referring to recent eviction of homeless people from The Ark outside Manchester Metropolitan University. The Ark is a community built by homeless people where food, drink, shelter, and safety are provided for Manchester’s homeless community.
The council have motioned for the removal of the tented community and several ‘scuffles’ have broken out as the Manchester Evening News has reported. One video that has surfaced shows a woman being aggressively manhandled and removed by police. I don’t know whether Simock was invited to speak or approached the organisers himself, but it seemed to be the wrong audience and badly thought out timing for him to talk to about the council’s ‘feminist’ leanings.
At this point the fair had already exceeded my expectations in that it looked like the audience were ready for a debate. After Gail Heath form the Pankhurst Centre for Women’s Aid spoke to us about the history of the Pankhursts and the suffragettes, Lydia Burnsmeier-Rullow came up to introduce the Women in Comedy Festival being held in various venues across Manchester between the 15th and 25th October. A representative from one of these venues then came up to introduce transgender comedian Sarah Franken.
Franken’s set included material about Islam that I thought needlessly provocative, and having received a poor response from the audience she was removed from the stage by the organisers. Considering how badly this part of the evening had gone, I thought the organisers dealt with the situation as best they could and the evening moved on swiftly, whether it got better or slightly more absurd.
Everyone feeling shaken it was light relief to hear from Dr Jenna Ashton about the Digital Women’s Archive North (DWAN), a project where important female historical figures are brought forward and researchers can be directed to the appropriate archives. This was a positive session that it was encouraging to hear Ashton discuss her projects that branch out to schools and currently work with the Wise Campaign and Science Girls (see their website dwarchivenorth.wordpress.com).
After Ashton’s session one of the organisers announced that Olukemi Amala could not access the building and had for quite some time been scouring the Northern Quarter for a toilet with disabled access. Amala’s talk on intersectional feminism was perhaps the most important of the evening. The concept of intersectional feminism, that was given a name by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, is the view that an individual can experience more than one form of oppression at a time including discriminations of race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.
Intersectionality demonstrates the shortcomings of a majority white middle class feminism in its representation of women of different race, who are physically impaired, suffering from mental health issues, or are transgender. Amala is a psychotherapist currently undertaking postgraduate research at MMU in female oppression and identity formation (see Amala’s website olukemiamala.com). Amala herself was not perturbed by the state of events but it offered a poignant fitting platform described the concept of intersectionality and her experience as a black women with a physical impairment.
I think what can be said of the Feminist Fresher’s Fair was that it didn’t go as planned. Personally I thought it would be an event to show newcomers to the city what kind of societies and such they could get involved with in Manchester and the exciting, forward thinking feminism that can be found here. On a whole the evening felt relatively negative.
What did excite me, though, and I hope others took this away too, was the attitude of Lydia Burnsmeier-Rullow (from Women in Comedy), who stepped up to the plate when it appeared that Amala would not be available. She read out her own piece describing her experience of crossed racial and gender discriminations and how intersectional feminism acknowledges these crossovers. It gives me hope that the women participating at the Women in Comedy Festival will deliver an erudite and vivacious performance that ‘punches women up, not down’.