Three years ago, I found myself at the Southbank Centre in London, nervously clutching at my takeaway cup of tea, and trying desperately to focus on circling the events I wanted to go to in the programme before me. This, you will be unsurprised to hear, is relatively hard to do when your eyes are preoccupied with roving round the nearby tables trying to assess if anyone is looking at you as funny as they should be, given that you’re at a FEMINIST EVENT ON YOUR OWN. Why was I here?? No-one went to things on their OWN, let alone things about FeminismCapitalF.
This was the March of my first year at university – a year that had swiftly see me evolve from “of course I’m a feminist I don’t really get why you’re all so bothered by the whole thing”, an attitude that is more accurately categorised as “dabbling”, to fully-blown “god I’m really quite angry about all this misogynist shit. PASS ME A LIGHTER.”
However, back in the ancient days of 2011, it wasn’t really the done thing to tell all your supercool new Warwick friends that you were a feminist. Or at least, it wasn’t really the done thing to tell them ALL THE TIME, which is what I wanted to do. So I started to write a few articles, found a few people who enjoyed a rant, and generally kept a bit of a low profile. And, when I booked my tickets to the Women of the World festival, I obviously didn’t actually TELL anyone.
My first WOW was a game-changer. Suddenly, I was surrounded by women who, like me, were all actually quite pissed off about not being equal to men. What’s more, these women wanted to do something about. They were angry, just like I was, they had had enough, just like I had. They wanted change.
I admit I spent most of the day bumbling around feeling completely baffled. I came home and immediately decided that people around me would start hearing about this whole feminist lark whether they liked it or not. The next year passed in a blur of articles and rage and feeling wronged and wanting to right. I became like a feminist priest, hounding people to convert with my anger and my passion and offerings of tea and biscuits.
My second year of WOW was more socially acceptable – for a start, I met the wonderful Editor of this brilliant blog, Louisa, for a coffee, after finding out we were both going to be there. Certified Cool. Yet the audience was still mostly women in their 30s and above, or women who were very clearly liberally minded and had no issues with the feminist label to start with. My mum and I’s decision to go together as a mother-daughter team looked pretty unheard of.
This year, despite being on my year abroad in Paris, there was no question as to whether I would attend. In a beautiful pattern of symmetry, Louisa had done this the year before and visited from her year abroad in Paris, so I felt that together we had completed a little circle of life.
Despite the seemingly mad decision to leave a twenty-degrees-centigrade Paris in springtime for London in March, all for the sake of a feminist festival, I knew from the minute I moved out to Paris I would be coming back for WOW. In all honesty, I couldn’t not. The festival has become like an intravenous drip of feminism and optimism. There is a certain curse of the feminist world that the more research and articles and work you do for the feminist cause, the more you realise how poisonous the world can be, and how far we have still to go. Thus optimism is not a word I use often in conjunction with feminism.
Yet WOW has done something completely unique: it brings together quite literally thousands of amazing women, who all want this better world. And what women! Every woman there is a complete tour de force, every question from the floor is prefaced with ‘last year I set up my own business to help women get into my industry’ or ‘back in the 70s I was part of the feminist movement’ – even ‘I set up a guild to help women mechanics back in 1976’! – every speaker a life-changer to someone, somewhere, maybe several people.
And this year, for the first time, it felt like there were young sponges ready to absorb this inspiration. There was a Teens Feminist Corner as well as an Under 10s Feminist Corner (the latter of which was advertised in some of the weekend papers as a thing to do with your kids). And there were young girls EVERYWHERE. There were big groups of schoolgirls, small groups of teenage girls, mobs and mobs of twentysomethings. Suddenly I didn’t need to hide that I was at a feminist festival – being at a feminist festival, in 2014, is now COOL.
Even the talks felt young – there were afro-hair meet-ups, debates on Feminism and Privilege, on porn and Bringing Up Boys, big panels on activism and workshops on everything from setting up sustainable businesses to using tech to, I can only presume, quite literally change the world.
We’ve all seen the shift and popularisation of the feminist movement in the past couple of years – from the sharing of viral outrage in the form of TED talks and Miss Representation montages, to the growing readership of amazing blogs like Vagenda, the Feminist Times, and the Guardian’s avid coverage of student feminist activism. We have gone from a reluctance to mention the F word, to feminism dominating many national newspaper’s everyday news stories. ‘Women’ sections online have exploded in popularity (here I exclude Femail. We must continue to hope there’s a very clever hacker out there who is working on making the entire of the Mail Online self-combust). To many young people today, even the question of whether or not to call ourselves feminists seems redundant and ancient.
To anyone reading this – men, women, young, old – I say: go get some WOW in your life. Never will you be so inspired, so warm and fuzzy in your heart, and so convinced that hey, actually, we might just be able to do this whole equality thing.