Hark! Christmastime is here, and Girl Talk’s yuletide celebrations are fully underway with our feminist holiday playlist. From Marika Hackman and Kate Bush to Dusty Springfield and Destiny’s Child, this is festive femininity at its shimmering best. A gift-wrapped present for your ears as you trudge through your final deadlines of the term, with old favourites and new gems to discover, you won’t even notice Michael Bublé’s missing.
The Girl Talk Christmas Mingle will take place from 7.30-11pm on Wednesday 29th November at Novi. Join us for mulled wine, festive cocktails, non-alcoholic alternatives, free mince pies as well as music and singing by the Gonville Girls. See our Facebook event page for more details.
From calling out and speaking up to mansplaining and ‘calm down dear’, the dynamics of contemporary sexual politics are increasingly being defined through a schema of silence, speech and being heard.
Whilst historically the voices of women have been silenced or overpowered, with the recent spate of allegations against sexual harassment, today they appear to have reached a deafening crescendo. The #MeToo hashtag has been used tens of millions of times on Facebook and Twitter, harmonising with their counterparts #balancetonporc in French, #YoTambien in Spanish, وأنا_كمان# in Arabic and #quellavoltache in Italian.
With this proliferation of womens’ voices, leaps and bounds have been made against the structural oppression and institutional silencing of women in Hollywood, Westminster and the European Parliament. The literal and metaphorical noise made by so many courageous women jars with the guilty silence of sexual predators such as Weinstein, and the failure of response hashtag movements #IHave or #ItWasMe to properly get going.
In this clatter we are starting to hear every micro-instance of misogyny being called out. Hosting an episode of Have I Got News for You, Jo Brand silences the schoolboy giggles of her male panellists who scoff at women’s accusations against unwanted sexual behaviour: ‘these are hardly high-level crimes’, chortles Ian Hislop. Killing their ‘joke’, an unimpressed Brand calls them out, highlighting the in fact pernicious and grinding effect of such unsolicited treatment.
And long may this continue. Yet within this noise, it is also important to analyse the immense and insidious power women can gain through a pronounced, dignified and unadhering silence. Especially when speaking out doesn’t necessarily mean you are being heard.
On bonfire night, as so many others did, I attended the annual fireworks display on Midsummer Common with my friends. It was an excuse to escape the library for a couple of hours, and enjoy one of the first events of winter. I’ve always loved fireworks – completely ignorant to the science behind them, I find them enticing and beautiful. Exploding in countless colours before an entirely black backdrop, they silence the rest of the world for a few minutes. It seems like nothing else really matters, nothing but the enthralling eruption of light and colour before our eyes.
That night, a friend’s comment resonated with me- as vibrant and, often, scary as fireworks might be, they are temporary, and in a few short minutes, the sky will return to a state of clear blackness with no record of their ever being there. It was week five, and I thought this analogy applied ever-too aptly to life at Cambridge.
Since arriving here, the ‘it’s not the be-all and end-all’ philosophy has kept me (mostly) sane and (hopefully) grounded when it comes to work and deadlines. I attempt to keep a level head (attempt being the operative word) and not slave away over pieces of work I don’t enjoy. However, when too many deadlines, duties and dramas all come to a head at once, it can feel like nothing else exists outside of our little stress- and panic-fuelled bubble. Especially mid-term, everything seems to erupt in one go. We know too well that this feeling of helpless dread and worry will fizzle out come week eight, but for now, nothing else matters. Just like fireworks, I suppose.
In honour of Black History Month, FLY* hosts poet and filmmaker Victoria Adukwei Bulley for a screening of ‘Mother Tongues’; a series of films capturing mother-daughter interactions as poets from the African diaspora have their words translated from English into their native languages by the women who raised them. It features Victoria herself, alongside Theresa Lola, Belinda Zhawi, Tania Nwachukwu – and their mothers. Their words are translated from English into Ga, Yoruba, Igbo and Shona, respectively.
Before showing the films, Victoria explains why the versions of the poems in the mother tongues appear first, before the English recitations, by drawing on her own experiences of language:
“The project was born out of a need to connect with my own language, Ga, spoken by people historically based around Accra, in Ghana. I’ve heard it spoken around me since birth, yet don’t understand it. My parents wanted us to be fluent in English as a priority, to make it easier for us to – well, the nicer term is ‘integrate’, but I think a more realistic term would be – assimilate.”
Victoria expresses her sadness at not understanding Ga and her longing to reconnect with a language which is at once so intimately connected and foreign to her. In each of the short films, the mother’s translation of the poem is presented before the daughter reads her work in English. We experience that same sense that Victoria has described to us, as we hear the now rising, now falling, intonations of a foreign tongue, experiencing language for its sounds rather than its meanings. As the mothers recite, the camera-focus moves from gesturing hands, to smiling lips, pausing over a dangling earring. It’s beautiful to experience.
Inclusivity is at the heart of the ethos behind the genius The Man Presents: More Women, which has enjoyed a stellar run as the ADC Late Show this week. With a rotating cast of 16 performing on alternate nights, The Man Presents features a divine selection of women in comedy, all delivering character monologues which are stunning in their breadth and detail.
While many interpret working in anything remotely corporate as ‘selling your soul’, Law graduate Becca Naylor shows that there’s more to a traditional Law firm than meets the eye. Having always been passionate about human rights, Becca managed to make it the subject of her everyday professional life as a full-time Pro Bono associate and Reed Smith’s Pro Bono Manager across Europe, The Middle East and Asia. Snatching a moment in an international tour (of the Reed Smith offices), Becca speaks to Cambridge Girl Talk about serendipitous school talks, hockey, and her anything but ordinary professional life.
Interview by Xanthe Fuller
So, what do you do now?
I’m a pro bono lawyer at Reed Smith, I’m responsible for managing our pro bono work across Europe the Middle East and Asia. Pro bono is the free legal advice we provide to charities, non-profits and low income individuals. We work alongside amazing charities to support refugees, prisoners, victims of domestic violence and work on projects to combat human trafficking and female genital mutilation.
How did you get there?
Nick Yarris came to speak at my school when I was 16, he inspired me to study law. Nick was on death row for over 20 years before he was exonerated. I was shocked by this and other injustices. I started to follow the work of Clive Stafford Smith and Reprieve.
I went on to study law at university, applied for vacation schemes and training contracts and did the LPC in London. In the gap before starting my training contract I volunteered at Reprieve in their abuses in counter terrorism team, assisting with their work on Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes, and torture and rendition cases. I then started my training contract at Reed Smith and at the first opportunity went on our pro bono secondment to Liberty where I worked in their advice and information team. During my training contract the pro bono role became available and I applied for the job, I then did my training contract and the pro bono role for a year and when I qualified I became a full time pro bono lawyer.
This summer I made the fatal mistake (yet one I make every year) of thinking the next twelve weeks were going to be some kind of mind-and-body boot camp, thanks to the rose-gold glow of Instagram and its hoard of inflatable flamingo-straddling models, all of whom I forget are paid to bleach their teeth and drink shitty tea. Like every summer to date, I started this one with ambitions of returning for my third year well-read, well-dressed, and with 1% body fat. I would be living in London for two internships, and couldn’t imagine a more glamorous and grown-up setting in which I could finally emerge from my self-constructed cocoon of cake and anti-depressants.
Joking aside, I had also convinced myself that being busy at work, finally taking up some form of exercise, and catching up with old friends would surely subdue the depression which has been largely controlling my life for the past year or two, and which few of my friends know about. My second year at Cambridge was a definite and prolonged rock-bottom; I spent the morning of my 21st birthday crying in bed over last night’s cold noodles, because I hadn’t expected to make it that far. Moving to London was meant to be a fresh start, but even outside of Cambridge I was completely overwhelmed with self-expectation, and having returned to the murmur of Bristolian accents I am much happier away from it all.
(City Light Employee, City Light Photographic Negatives (Record Series 1204-01), Seattle Municipal Archives)
When it came to deciding on a career, Jenni Sidey took blue-sky thinking to a whole new level. Having completed a degree in Mechanical Engineering at McGill University and later a PhD and Fellowship position at Cambridge University, in July, Sidey was announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the latest astronaut to enter the Canadian Space Program after a gruelling, year-long selection process. Here she talks determination, diversity in STEM and a training schedule that includes ethics, exercise and Russian conversation.
Interview by Kitty Grady
So, what do you do now?
I’ve just started a new role as Astronaut in the Canadian Space Agency. Prior to that, I was a lecturer in the Cambridge University Engineering Department and a fellow at St. Catharine’s College. For the next two years, I’ll be learning about the systems of the International Space Station, the Russian language, how to do a space walk, and much more as I prepare to eventually fly in space.
….and how did you get there?
I got here by learning as much as I possibly could in my previous roles, working very hard, and by being fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pursue my passion.
1) My name is Aditi
2) I study an MPhil (Masters in Philosophy) in Education, Globalisation and International Development
3) I am often the coldest person in the room
As the Michaelmas term progresses, I’m finding the days get shorter, darker and significantly, colder. It definitely feels like survival of the fittest – dodging sneezing classmates in hope to avoid getting ill, popping (always legal) pills when I am inevitably ill etc.
So in this article I thought I would share my wise wisdom, accumulated from years of trial and error on a chronic quest to unravel the secret ingredients of ‘what keeps one warm?’ during sub 20 degrees temperature?
Here are five of my top tips ‘n’ tricks:
1) LAYERING –
Although this may be the most logical piece of advice it is one that I often overlook. Sometimes I find that I’m so keen to be warm as soon as possible that I end up throwing on the thickest and/or fluffiest jumper I can find. However I soon discovered that this is ineffective, given that I’d heat up walking to lectures, or be sitting in a hot sweaty lecture hall and find myself unable to take my jumper off because I’m not wearing anything underneath #freethenipple. So I’d recommend starting with a vest and/or t-shirt as a base layer before progressing onto a long-sleeved t-shirt before a thin jumper (turtlenecks are the best I find) and potentially then the super fluffy jumper!
This is my summer truth: I’ve been bored, broke and alone for two months. The summer vacation crept up on me and before I knew it, I was about to spend ten weeks at my parent’s new home, in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, with practically no money to speak of. Now, as September approaches and I prepare to move into an attic room in Cambridge and softly weep into a copy of The Canterbury Tales, I feel happier and more like myself than I can ever remember being.
The anticipation of seeing my home friends morphed into disappointment when one by one they told me they had fully-booked summers. There was nothing to distract me from the inevitable spam of people pretending not to hate their lives which Instagram relentlessly seems to regurgitate at this time of year. The initial weeks of my boredom were not only frustrating, but painful, as I was suddenly confronted with the strained family dynamic I had been avoiding all year. Living at home for three months with your parents when your views on every topic known to man are at odds with each other means that the safest mode of conversation is small talk. It killed me to sit through dinner-table discussions about groceries, the weather and the never-ending saga of my extended family. I became so under stimulated that I started reading for my dissertation as a means of diversion – and that is perhaps the most worrying indication of my mental state.
Cambridge theatrical communities are well-represented at the Edinburgh Fringe every year. This year there are about 25 shows from current or recently graduated Cambridge students at the Fringe, and countless others from alumni. And they are in good company. Alongside those performers sent from Fen to Firth each year we are joined by Oxford, Bristol, Durham, London, Exeter, Leeds and many other high-achieving universities. Despite any diversity within university communities, a large portion of shows at the Fringe are either all-male or male-dominated.
Walking down The Royal Mile a flyer was thrust toward me saying “All-male acapella group – you look like you’d love it, ladies!”
As we walked away, I thought “why all-male?” Male performance is hardly a unique selling point here at the Fringe. A performer in this year’s Footlights Tour Show, Ania Magliano-Wright pointed out to me that the finalists of the Chortle Student Comedy Award were exclusively male, accompanied by a male compère. The final took place here at the Fringe, and in the website review of the event, there was no mention of the lack of female and non-binary representation. It’s as if it is taken for granted that comedy is a male space. As the make-or-break platform for comedy in the UK and arguably worldwide, it suffers a remarkable lack of diversity.
Whether you’ve been exploring far flung places, lounging on the beach, cutting your teeth at an internship or just soaking up some post-term calm and recalibrating, we want to hear your summer stories.
Now accepting articles, fiction, art and photography, please email email@example.com with a brief introduction to your ideas – we can’t wait to hear from you!
Cambridge Girl Talk are looking for a group of enthusiastic self-identifying women to form our 2017-18 committee. Positions include Events Director (x2) Sponsorship Organiser, Social Media Co-ordinator, Blog Editor and Head of Visual. Please send a brief email to firstname.lastname@example.org introducing yourself, stating which role you are interested in and why before 25th June.
‘[Although Architecture] may be seen to be rooted in pragmatism, it is a powerful and extraordinarily revealing expression of human psychology [reflecting the] ambitions, insecurities and motivations of those who build.’
– An extract from The Edifice Complex: An Architecture of Power
To me, The Edifice Complex by architectural critic Deyan Sudjic, beautifully explains the ways in which buildings throughout history – usually of a patriarchal, political or religious nature – have been carefully and often ruthlessly orchestrated to intimidate their guests. Rather than elaborate external symbols of power, subtle manipulations of architecture have been used to leave guests feeling ‘suitably intimidated.’ Although not reflecting the same ambitions, insecurities and motivations; I was interested in the themes explored in Sudjic’s writings and how they might be applicable to the analysis of many other building types and programmes. Characteristically, I chose to write my dissertation on Prada: an Architecture of Manipulation, and the ways in which luxury brands use architecture to manipulate consumers.
My dissertation examined the interweaving of politics, religion, gender and music in relation to Iranian women singers. My focus was on the changes incurred by the revolution in 1979, which saw a dramatic shift from the modernising, Westernising stance held during the Pahlavi era (1925-1979) to the Islamic theocratic rule secured by Supreme Leader Khomeini.
As dominant attitudes towards religion and gender changed, legislation surrounding music, which Khomeini believed was ‘like a drug’, also transformed to correspond with Shari’a law. Under immense religio-political pressure, music largely retreated into the private sphere, with the notable exceptions of the revolutionary hymns and anthems played by the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, and the establishment of the annual Hymns and Revolutionary Music Festival in 1986. More specifically, the solo voice was thought to symbolise Western individualism and consumerism, antithetical to the revolutionary vision; and, furthermore, women’s voices were considered to make men think of things other than God. As a result, Iranian women singers were hit hard by the revolution, which appeared to present them with an ultimatum: either stop singing or leave their country.
(This article contains mentions of abortion, obstetric abuse, battery and discussion of cis-sexism).
My dissertation looks at one particular ‘girl talk’ and its codes of transmission: women talking about giving birth. I first became interested in birth stories when reading about the 2013 California court case of a woman, Kelly, who sued her obstetrician for battery after he performed an episiotomy on her as she begged him to stop. This is just one story in a history of birthing bodies labouring under abuse of authority: the Mexican woman unable to communicate with her doctor, told by her mother to do as he said; the women pressured into convenience caesareans or else labelled ‘too posh to push’; the trans man terrified to give birth in an NHS hospital; the six out of ten US episiotomies performed without consent.
There is clearly a need for talk about birth- education in the form of transmission of stories. Nevertheless, my reading prompted the realisation that there is only one established genre of women talking about birth: Old Wives’ Tales. The bad reputation of this grisly genre precedes it, leading to the startling realisation that our stories of birth do not come from those who have given birth themselves. Instead, they come from medical professionals, the state, partners and friends. Think about the books you have read with birth scenes, the films, the TV shows. Where were these stories coming from?
And yet, birth is a huge moment in anyone’s life. We need stories about birth. When it comes to talk about birth, a woman talking to other women forms a ‘we’; building solidarity amongst diverse groups and enabling us to transmit feminist critique from this place of solidarity. But we must also recognize that such bonding also engenders division. In a patriarchy, women too are responsible for the transmission, and often the enforcement, of social rules and codes. Where solidarity can be built across women, birth talk can also exclude certain groups.
In celebration of Mother’s Day, it seemed only natural to turn to our most loyal fans and generous patrons: our mums. As we grow older the adage that ‘mum knows best’ only rings truer and truer. So, with a postcard penned by Sabira Khakoo and some life hacks from Pauline Grady, we turn to them for a dose of wisdom and love that only mothers know how to give.
On 14th March, The Webb Library in Jesus College hosted Cambridge Girl Talk’s second event ‘Women in Fashion’ with Jane Shepherdson CBE, former CEO of Whistles and Brand Director of Topshop; Kerry Taylor, fashion historian, auctioneer and owner of Kerry Taylor Auctions: the world’s leading fashion auction house; Pandora Sykes (freelance journalist, stylist, brand consultant and presenter of The High Low podcast) and Ellie Pithers, fashion features editor of British Vogue. The event was chaired by Dr Alice Blackhurst, Junior Research Fellow in Visual Culture at Kings College. Check out pictures and highlights from the evening below.
My dissertation looks at the work of Margaret Harrison, a British artist who made a series of pieces in the 1970s about various issues affecting women at the time (and indeed, still). Her pieces are consciously feminist and activist, and tie into her heavy involvement in the Women’s Liberation Movement, participating in consciousness-raising groups, meetings and protests like the one that took place at the Miss World Beauty Pageant in 1971, where Harrison played the character of “Miss Loveable Bra”, wearing orange fur nipples!
Even Harrison’s earliest work was vociferously political: her first exhibition, in 1971, consisting of a series of pop-art-style drawings that subversively played with the gender stereotypes embodied by cartoon superheroes and pin-ups, was shut down by police on its first day due its ostensibly offensive content. Police at the time said that it was her representation of men (such as Hugh Hefner) in stereotypically ‘sexy’, feminine clothing that most offended their sensibilities.