Sunday, 7 March 2010

Emancipated. Not Emaciated.

Last year while working as a Book Correspondent at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, for ThreeWeeks (the festival reviewing publication) I had what I thought was at the time, the good fortune to attend Susie Orbach's discussion of her latest book 'Bodies'. Suspecting it was a now or never moment, at the end of the discussion I plucked the roving mic to ask her a question: what had happened to the feminist movement since the 2nd wave and could it possibly be resurrected to promote greater unity amongst women?

As her initial pleasure/surprise that someone under the age of 30 had asked her a question melted from her face, she rather stony replied, 'it can't be [resurrected] times have changed'. In short she advocated randomised acts of feminism, much like this blog I suppose (which would probably be more effective if more people read it ...) and posting YouTube videos. 'The days of pamphlets are gone' she proclaimed with a knowing air that rather took for granted the assumption that I thought the 3rd wave was going to march merrily along off the back of photocopied, handwritten leaflets. I'm ever so slightly technophobic, but I'm no Luddite.

'But what about demonstrations?!' the lefty inside me cried -for a lefty loves a good protest. 'I've been to many of these events' I said, 'and they are disproportionately made up of bespectacled middle aged people', well I didn't say that but I did say this 'people keep saying my generation doesn't give a toss about politics, that we're apolitical, that we don't care. I was 18 when our government invaded Iraq and I was out on the streets months before an impending invasion, alongside what looked like at least 60% of the population who sure as hell didn't agree with the war.' I drew for breath and wiped the sweat from my brow. Forgive me I was nervous, Susie was after all Princess Diana's psychotherapist.

'I know' Orbach said soothingly, 'but they didn't listen to us'. Sensing she had little time for waving placards I handed back the mic. All I had wanted was an answer to how we might unify the women. To be told that New Labour's foreign policy might have damaged this irrevocably came as a bit of a shock to me. In seriousness perhaps it is understandable. Orbach felt that at this point in her life she had done her bit for the feminist cause, it was up to her daughter's generation and the like to set the wheels in motion, to figure out the 3rd wave.

Perhaps I could have come away with a renewed sense of faith in the female, if not propensity, at least potential to subscribe to a feminism, if it hadn't been for something a girl of high school age, a couple of rows back, went on to say. What started off as a relatively sound recount of her experience of the pressure to look a certain way and her determination to subvert the so-called conventions of female beauty, finished up as a criticism of the girls in her year not so strong-willed enough as to say no to the pearlescent lip-gloss. 'I call them The Plastics!' she laughed with a knowing air Orbach clearly didn't pick up on, for she latched onto this term as though it were some kind of cyber-punk, post-apocalyptic anti-feminism were men have done away with real shitting, pissing and bleeding women and replaced them with robots - The Plastics.

For you or I young enough to remember when Lindsay Lohan had a successful acting career, we know otherwise. The Plastics are a group of bitchy, image-conscious girls who terrorise their high school peers in the teen movie 'Mean Girls'. This possibly 'mean' girl had simply appropriated the term to denote the more vain amongst her peers. Its old fashioned, but I grew up with the principle that 'two wrongs, don't make a right'. How all this fits in with Orbach's campaign to promote healthy body image beats me, but she seemed to enjoy this girl's rant and even invited her to contribute to her website Any-Body. You can read my review of the discussion here

Coincidentally, today I read in The Independent that Susie Orbach has been listed amongst the top 100 most influential British women of the last one hundred years. Its International Women's Day tomorrow and later I might be tempted to draw up my own list of women of substance and achievement and post it here as my own randomised feminist nod to the ladies who put pen to paper, who said or sang things that have renewed my faith in the cause.

For now I want to show you a few pictures of a female activism demonstration I attended on October the 10th 2009 in Edinburgh, organised by the Gude Cause. The Gude Cause Procession staged a reenactment of the historic Suffragettes march which went along famous Princes Street one hundred years ago. In a bid to not just celebrate one hundred years of female activism, they invited young women to construct placards and banners highlighting the issues and causes still effecting women today, as well as highlighting the work still needed to be done to make society a more equal and fair place for all women.

With this in mind, in a not so subtle nod to my meeting with Susie Orbach, I decided, partly on her behalf, to highlight the issue of body image, under the slogan 'EMANCIPATED. NOT EMACIATED.' For we are women who can vote, so we are women who can eat!

Here's a picture of my friend Sarah who took to banner wielding like a dolphin to water. I love the candid nature of this shot, the black and white is almost reminiscent of Suffragette imagery, whereas the timeless nature of her stance could have come straight from a 2nd wave Miss World protest. Although you can't appreciate it in this picture, Sarah dyed a section of her hair Suffragette purple for the occasion. Now that's dedication.

Below we're taking the banner along North Bridge. To the left we were overlooked by nature's compelling gift, the dormant volcanic rock of Arthur's Seat. To our right we were flanked by the majestic Balmoral Hotel. Once again Sarah's taking up banner holding duties. Picking it up from the right we have Dora (my flatmate and best friend). I was rather pleased that we'd surpassed the banner behind us for the Scottish Socialist Party. Marxism has its place. But this day was about Feminism!

And here's our banner in the glorious sunshine. I'm on the right rocking super cool Ray-Ban Wayfarers. Who says feminists wear dungarees?

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