This weekend was the third WOW festival at the Southbank and I'm proud to say I've been at all three. There's something brilliant about being in a building surrounded by so many women and discussing feminism so positively and openly - it really makes me happy!
This year the sessions that stood out for me were a fab session on blogging (hence this blog) by Kaite Welsh and a fantastic self defence workshop run by Premier Self Defence which was a real eye opener. Initially I had wanted to attend the self defence session to gain experience of attending one - thinking about suffragists (as I simply can't help but do) and their twice-weekly self defence classes run by Mrs Garrud at her dojo on Shaftesbury Avenue. Part sobering, part exhilarating the workshop stressed the importance of verbal diffusion when engaged in threatening encounters as well as sneaky physical and mental preparation for aggressive action where needed. It was just a taster session but gave me a lot of food for thought - if us seemingly empowered 21st Century feminists were having a hard time suppressing learned 'feminine' subservient behaviours and showing our aggression how much more difficult and taboo would it have been for Edwardian women to train to physically defend themselves? Certainly if I did a session like that twice a week for a few months my confidence when on public transport or if harrassed on the street would be much greater and my behaviour significantly altered. Being verbally abused on the street in the past - I remember shouts of 'Fucking Dyke' in broad daylight when I was on tour in Coventry and Buxton and the same muttered sotto voce from a gay man on Old Compton Street as well as a scary incident somewhere near Cambridge where I was followed across a car park by a group of drunk men shouting insults - has made me feel defensive and wary in public, particularly when with my partner. Fortunately there has been nothing physical - but one can't rule out the possibility and reading the #EverydaySexism thread on Twitter show how prevalent inappropriate behaviour towards women is. Yikes.
Being prepared to physically defend myself where escape is not an option is sensible and I'm going to go on a longer course with Premier. Somehow I don't think my certificate in stage combat - rapier, dagger and unarmed - is going to be sufficient!
Attending WOW and being amongst other attendees is such a treat - I was jigging about with anticipation for this year because WOW 2011 and 2012 were so fab. Seeing the same dedicated faces on stage and in panels is inspiring - thinking particularly of Jude Kelly, Sandi Toksvig, Helena Kennedy and Bidisha - and the wide-ranging topics for debate and discussion in the WOW Bites sessions tickle empathy, memories, shared interests and experiences from all the participants. This year I felt particularly inspired by contributions from those within my own industry - both Juliet Stevenson and Josie Rourke read extracts from their contributions to the new book Fifty Shades of Feminism. Hearing feminist voices from the mainstream theatrical community is so important. Change will come, is coming and we will be and are part of it. How wonderful!
Thanks WOW2013 and see you next year.
If you're interested in finding out more about Mrs Garrud and her 'Jujitsuffragette' techniques - I'll be speaking about her as part of my talk on the 1909 Women's Exhibition next Sunday 17th March in London for Women's History Month. More info here
Thoughts, reflections, bits of research