Last night Fe-line‘s women’s group, Word of Mouth, met to discuss Feminism. I feel as a women’s group we have skirted f-word and it was time to tackle the subject head on. Louise Livesey, tutor in Women’s Studies and Sociology at Ruskin College was the perfect person to lead the discussion. Louise is also an important member of the Oxford International Women’s Festival and the Oxford Feminist Network.
Louise started with the amazing statement that feminism “isn’t about rules.” Putting to bed the myths that feminism is for only for women who look a certain way, act a certain way or from a certain background. There is no rule book about what a feminist should be!
The evening was called ‘How feminism saved my life’ and Louise went on to explain how feminism has always been a part of her life from when she realised that she was treated differently to her brother as a child, through growing up in the north with powerful female influences to reaching university and asking the massive question, “Why isn’t life fair?”
Once Louise had asked this question she started becoming very passionate about feminism and working for the women’s newspaper and getting involved in women’s campaigns. Not to build her CV but because this is what she was passionate about! Louise made a really important aside here and told the audience that we should always do things that we are passionate about!
She spoke about how the feminist community has supported her and what the importance of the community is to her. They support and push her, whilst giving her the space that she needs to think. Louise described how the feminist community brings together a variety of different view points and contrary to popular belief women don’t all think the same!!
Louise went on to ask the poignant question, “why would you choose not to be a feminist?” I asked Louise why she thought feminism has got a bad name? She answered because feminism is an interrupting strategy, no one knows what the outcomes will be when we reach a state of true equality. Feminists have always been portrayed as un-womanly/un-maternal because it is fundamentally hard to step out of line. With change, comes fear of the unknown.
Louise also went on to say that she is not surprised that young women are confused about what to believe in. She doesn’t think that young women have the positive female role models now that she had as a child. They are being told that they have equality but at the same time being treated like “baby making ticking time bombs” by employers and expected to look and dress like a WAG at the same time.
The discussion at the end brought up some really important points and questions. One woman described how it is difficult to make change and so you fall into the norms of being a wife, having children, doing the school run and looking back and wondering what happened to feminism? Which lead to Louise’s final point of what one thing would make the biggest move towards equality? Louise’s answer was equality in parenting and for father’s and mother’s to share paternity and maternity leave. This would have a massive impact on changing the world and for the next generation to a see a more equal society.
For myself personally last night’s discussion resonated with me on so many levels. I thought it was so great to hear someone say feminism isn’t about rules and it is multi faceted. It seems that the ‘fear’ of feminism comes from the unknown and I personally think a fear of matriarchy over throwing patriarchy, but what we are actually talking about is a true equal society where men and women share responsibilities and surely this is not so scary?
I have included the video below from Equals, a coalition brought together by Annie Lennox. I wanted to include it because it represents how far we have to go until we reach true equality. It is also culturally topical as it features Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench.
Last night in Oxford we heard another inspirational story at Word of Mouth. We were joined by Lou Barwell, who came all the way from Doncaster to share her story of how she went from rock bottom to following her dream.
I met Lou six months ago at the City Women’s Network gala dinner. She was speaking at about her life, how she was arrested, how this had made her want to commit suicide, how she got help from the women’s charity Platform 51 and how she turned her life around. I was amazed how Louise was able to share an intensely emotional story so calmly and with humour.
Lou didn’t fail to impress the Fe-line audience, and like myself, everyone left feeling that they had met someone who is going to go along way in her career and life. Lou spoke openly about her arrest, what lead to it and how a lady from Platform 51 had found her and invited her along to their centre.
At the Platform 51 centre in Doncaster, Lou took part in confidence and self-esteem courses and was given counselling. Lou described this as the turning point in her life. She told us how at Platform 51 she can be herself and everyone accepts her. She still goes in everyday for a cup of tea before work for a boost. One audience member said: “I need somewhere like that in my life.” This was my own personal motivation for Fe-line; I have visited many Platform 51 centres and feel that all women from all backgrounds need somewhere to go to feel accepted and to get help; but more importantly, for women to help other women.
Lou talked about how when she was feeling really lost she would go and watch the Eddie Stobart lorries coming out of the depot. Her friend had told her that they all had women’s names, so she would go and look at the names. This became a hobby and she started going all around the country, lorry watching. When her grandad saw a picture of her sitting behind the wheel of a lorry, he said you “look very at home.” This planted the seed of becoming Lou’s career dream.
Lou thought she was going to have to wait five years to be able to afford her training to become a lorry driver, but the women at the City Women’s Network believed in her so much that they gave a large proportion of the money towards it. Lou has now passed her first two theory exams and is well on her way.
So what did I gain from last nights Word of Mouth? Well just an overall feeling of pride for a young woman that has come along way. There are people that you meet in life that you know are destined for great things, and Louise is one of these. Sometimes is takes hitting rock bottom to be able to build yourself up again.