#summerstories: Between Cambridge and a hard place

Abigail Smith

As the summer rolls on, I’ve started to think about my place in life. Maybe this is a symptom of being a recent graduate, and seeing how young all the freshers are (is it cool to be 21?)

More likely, it’s because I’m entering a strange limbo — to quote Blazin’ Squad, at the crossroads. I have just graduated, but will be returning in October as a post-grad student to the same college — a fresh start in an old setting.


This summer has been something of a blur, filled with the warm haze of sunny days and doing nothing. Each summer activity I’ve done has passed by quickly, as if rushing me towards this next step on my life ladder, sending me headfirst into a course filled with theses and manuscripts.

The world around me, filled with the blue of Cambridge, is at once old and new. I feel at home in safety of Jesus college, but will I still feel so in September? As new faces fill the hall and old friends move on with their lives, I am stuck in the middle, overstaying my welcome. Many of my closest friends are moving out and upwards, travelling or starting jobs. I can’t help but worry that I am being left behind, in a rut of formals, libraries, and bad club nights.

I sometimes find myself worrying that I am getting the worst of both worlds: the anxiety and stress of a new course, without the thrill of a new environment. I have suffered with anxiety for many years, and starting university again brings back the feelings of unsettling trepidation, making me feel once more like an 18 year old, desperate to understand everything there is to know about Cambridge.

But this seems like an unnecessarily pessimistic way to look at it. Doing a masters means I can dedicate myself to a topic I love in a place which, despite my fears, will always be my home.

My MPhil topic is looking at the writing of an almost unknown woman, Katherine Austen. Her manuscript was written during “her most saddest years”, a compilation of prayers, household tasks, and poetry. She was widowed, and left vulnerable, yet expected to manage the estate and raise three children. Austen’s writing is characterised by an uncertainty, a sense that this estate deserves a better record than her words can give it:

“Tis an unhappy fate to paint that place
By my unpolisht Lines, with so bad grace
Amidst its beauty if a streame did rise
To clear my mudy braine and misty eyes.”

Writing about Cambridge always feels a little similar; trying to explain the “bubble”, trying to encompass the weird and wonderful world is almost impossible, and leaves me with a muddy brain and misty eyes. But maybe that is what so exciting about coming back for a second round; maybe now I can come to Cambridge with those misty eyes and not expect to understand everything.

So I stand at my crossroads, feeling like I’m about to do a U turn back to the beginning. There will be new people to meet, new books to read, and a new place in life for me to settle into. There is nothing left but to embrace the known unknown, and meet it when it comes.

@cambridgegirltalk on Spotify

We are excited to announce our brand spanking new Spotify playlists!

Our resident DJs, Emmanuel College lawyer Gee Kim and engineer Martha Dillon, are continuing to curate a series of playlists that celebrate the female voice in all its shapes and forms. From Japanese jazz to Brazilian bossa nova, from downtime to the dancefloor, the @cambridgegirltalk Spotify has got it all.

Spotify has got it all. 


(Main image: Still from ‘Pretty Girl Rock’, Keri Hilson, 2012)

Why you need to go and see the Guerrilla Girls exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery

I began this term by taking part in my College’s telephone campaign. In the middle of a Monday evening shift, after a series of voicemails and call-back-laters, I had the surprise privilege of speaking to a feminist activist from the 1970s.

‘I’m not sure how interested you are in feminism’, she said, before recounting how she had put her career as a history professor on hold to join a feminist cooperative in London. Over the course of forty-five minutes, she shared with me her conception of feminism, particularly stressing the importance of female solidarity. Remarkably, this retired academic told me that ‘Angelina Jolie’s feminism is good because she fights for others – other celebrities use feminism for themselves’. Has feminism indeed been appropriated for selfish means, a tool for securing a few more thousand social media followers rather than a collective struggle for equality?

In a world where some sisters do seem to be literally ‘doing it for themselves’, the current Guerrilla Girls’ exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery is an important reminder that girl power is alive, kicking and ready to complete the fight for equality. Continue reading Why you need to go and see the Guerrilla Girls exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery

Why Bridget Jones deserves her place on the Woman’s Hour Power List

Pass the milk tray. More than just a Christmas telly staple, Bridget Jones is a flawed feminist hero we can all learn a thing or two from. 

‘Bridget Jones Diary’, 2001.

The BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List has established itself as a modern pantheon of female achievement and activism.

So, the inclusion of Bridget Jones into the list this year, which also included Margaret Thatcher, Beyoncé Knowles and Germaine Greer, created a small controversy, and not just because she’s a fictional character.

There’s certainly a case to say Bridget Jones is an anti-feminist figure. She is obsessed by her weight, getting on the scales multiple times a day. She flirts shamelessly with her lothario boss Daniel Cleaver, dreams of marital bliss with him and wears ‘sluttishly’ short skirts and see-through tops to the office in an attempt to achieve said bliss which she believes will be her happily ever after.

However, if we analyse her inclusion with the specific Woman’s Hour Power List criteria in mind: women who have positively impacted and reflected female British life in the past seventy years, then Ms. Jones seems rather excellently placed.

Most figures on the list are problematic in some way. Jenni Murray once said that Thatcher, ‘did nothing’ for women, as she got herself to the top but helped no women rise up with her. Greer is widely accused by third wave feminists as transphobic. Playing devil’s advocate, you could say that Beyoncé, a music industry puppet and media-trained machine who doesn’t write her own music and performs in revealing clothing, is hardly a role model for young girls.

It all comes down to that horribly overused word: empowerment. Beyoncé makes women feel like they can be comfortable in their own skin and that they can achieve anything. And before ‘Independent Woman’ and ‘Single Ladies’, there was Chaka Khan (and vodka). Continue reading Why Bridget Jones deserves her place on the Woman’s Hour Power List