Queer women and non-binary singers to add to your playlists

Support the LGBT+ community with your clicks, your views, your listens, your shares! Here’s a list of some of my favourite queer women and non-binary singers to diversify your listening. Hopefully there’s something for everyone here.

Christine and the QueensHéloïse Letissier, Christine and the Queens

Chris is a French singer-songwriter and releases songs in English and French who identifies as gender queer and pansexual. Her music has a pop feel with Janet Jackson as a big inspiration for her latest album. Her music is fun, sexy, and powerful.

Fun fact: I bought a blazer from Zara because she was modelling it. Moral of the story? I am a sucker for advertising and hot people in suits. But do I look fantastic in a blazer? Absolutely.

Song to start with: 5 dol

Iconic lyric: what if the obvious is suddenly so insane?

 

Clairoclairo

Clairo is perfect for fans of soft indie rock. Her latest album Immunity is relaxed with plenty of songs about unrequited love and learning to be comfortable with the unknown. Have a watch of her genius video explaining the song Bags for more of an insight into what her music is about.

Song to start with: Softly

Iconic lyric: Sofia I know that you and I shouldn’t feel like a crime

 

King Princess2019 Lollapalooza - Day 1

Anyone who knows me knows I literally cannot shut up about King Princess. I am pretty much convinced she is a goddess sent from gay heaven to taunt me. A New York native, she just released her first full album in October after releasing an EP in 2018. Her sound is fairly chilled with gorgeous vocals and lyrics that appeal to anyone who was an angsty teen and is now an angsty twenty-something. When does this angsty phase end by the way? Asking for a friend.

Song to start with: 1950

Iconic lyric: I rule with the velvet tongue, with my dress undone

 

Princess Nokianokia

Princess Nokia is hip-hop singer and rapper. She’s an intersectional feminist who is keen for women of colour to take up space. Her lyrics are always clever and range from rapping about her upbringing, to her sexuality, to the state of New York City. Her album 1992 Deluxe has a great mix of low-fi hip-hop tracks and others with a nostalgic 90s and early 2000s RnB feel. Whatever the track, her sound is powerful and sexy.

Song to start with: Tomboy

Iconic lyric: A nerdy girl with nymphomanic tendencies

 

St Vincentvincent

Since starting her career touring with Sufjan Stevens in his band, St Vincent has released a wide range of experimental tracks. She takes inspiration from Kate Bush, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix. She’s said before that her music is so changeable as it reflects her life living with anxiety. Everything can change in a moment and she channels this in her songs. 

Song to start with: Masseducation

Iconic lyric: I can’t turn off what turns me on

 

Girl in Redred

Girl in Red is another queen for those with angsty souls. Her indie-rock tracks are written, recorded and produced in her bedroom in Norway. Her song “we fell in love in October” is particularly lovely. She’s said in an interview that it’s about the joy of experiencing being in love with her first girlfriend after a long time of struggling to accept herself. Just shouting “my girl!” over and over again.

Song to start with: I’ll die anyway

Iconic lyric: you will be my world, my girl

 

Janelle Monáejanelle

Once again, anyone who knows me knows I won’t stop forcing them to listen to Janelle Monáe. Her music is an eclectic mix of hip-hop, RnB, rock, and pop. Her most recent album is especially incredible lyrically, with plenty of comment on the state of the US at the moment. Older albums take a lot of influence from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” with the idea of the robotic woman as a recurrent theme.

Song to start with: Take a Byte

Iconic lyric: Hundred men telling me cover up my areolas, while they blocking equal pay, sipping on they coca-colas

 

Emily Kingemily

Somewhere between RnB, soul, and pop, everything Emily King has released absolutely bangs. Another New Yorker, she’s toured with John Legend, Floetry, Alicia Keys, and Erykah Badu. When I saw this queen live last year (pun unintended, flex absolutely intended) it was one of the best gigs I have ever been to. Her voice is so soulful and controlled.

Song to start with: Look at me now

Iconic lyric: always know when the last smile has been drawn, so you won’t have to give too much of yourself

 

Tracy Chapmantracy

This list would not be complete without Tracey Chapman. Her androgynous voice is deeply soothing and her lyrics are powerfully emotional. Her song “Fast Car” is one of the greatest songs of the 20th century in my opinion. Her album titled “Tracy Chapman” from 1988 is great listening for a long car ride while you stare out of the window.

 

This article could have been a lot longer so if you made it this far and are still looking for more, here are some honourable mentions that I didn’t have time to write about: Frankie Cosmos (indie-rock), dodie (sad girl bangers), Tove Lo (pop/electronic), Hayley Kiyoko (pop), Shura (pop).

Girl Talk reviews : Apple TV’s Dickinson

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant-” wrote Emily Dickinson, in one of the almost 2,000 poems, scribbled on scraps of paper, that were found in her bedroom upon her death. Born in the 1830s in Amherst, Massachusetts, it is said that in the last years of her life, she would rarely leave her room, and always dressed in white. She’s one of my favourite poets ever, if not the favourite, and so I greeted the news of Apple TV’s retelling of her life with some apprehension.

In those 4 walls of her bedroom, held in silence like a fly in amber and secluded from the hustle of revivalist 19th century New England, Emily Dickinson managed to crystallise the deepest range of human emotions – where it always seemed that she’d reached enlightenment and been cut off at the last minute by a dash. Apple TV, if their recent offering The Morning Show (streaming to mostly bad reviews) is anything to go by, are not characterised by subtlety.

Single words, earmarked by dashes, exclamation points – Emily Dickinson’s poetry channeled the telegraph decades before it was invented. “Some of the strangest, most fascinating poems ever written”, opens Apple TV’s Dickinson. This respect for its subject and her output reassured me at once, and it really does provide the emotional core to this dreamy and feverish retelling of what Dickinson’s life could have been.

To keep this spoiler free, I’ll just focus on the first episode. Hailee Steinfeld (of “Most Girls” fame) plays the titular poet,  while her complicated and strict father, Edward Dickinson, is played by an excellent if sometimes wooden Toby Huss. The opening scene sees Emily wake up, lights a candle and write, visibly shaken and twitching with inspiration, breathing heavily. It reminded me of Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 Suspiria remake, when the young girls are possessed by a witch’s spirit as they dance. Dancing is erotic and euphoric in Suspiria and so is writing in Dickinson – her sublimated emotions and anxieties poured forth into poets like “Wild nights – Wild nights!”, allegedly about her sister-in-law, Susan, here played by the sweet-faced Ella Hunt.

Dickinson (which has met with largely positive reviews) is a sprawling, ambitious take on a complicated figure. It’s certainly not what people expected – modern, funky, made for social media.  Emily says “bullshit” within the first five minures. Vaguely old-timey and quite beautiful graphics and drawings adorn the title sequences of each episode, while bass-heavy backing tracks punctuate scene changes, including A$AP Rocky and Skepta’s Praise The Lord . The dialogue is halfway between general period drama formality and a 2000s teen movie. “What up sis,” says Emily’s brother Austin (Adrian Enscoe) as he rides up to tell her he’s marrying her best friend and (in the show and probably in real life) secret lover. “Nothing bro, just chilling,” she replies, lackadaisical – it really is a show carried by its visuals and storyline, rather than dialogue.

But striking imagery was crucial to Dickinson’s poems too – just look at one of her most famous lines, “Because I could not stop for Death –/He kindly stopped for me –/The Carriage held but just Ourselves –/And Immortality.” Each episode is named after a poem, and it is this poem that the show opens with. Lines of Emily’s poems appear as she composes them, embossed in gold on tree trunks and water buckets.

It’s really a show about the power of escapism. Every night, Emily retreats inside her mind to drive around with Death (an excellently relaxed Wiz Khalifa) in a red velvet dress. In life, Dickinson wrote with feverish imagination, probing deep at death, repression and trauma, all the while ensconced in staid respectability. In Dickinson, Emily is powerful, supremely confident in her status as a misfit. Her poems here are not published anonymously – whereas real-life Dickinson was said to be afraid of being published, obsessed over mysterious men (writing a series of letters addressed to a mysterious “master”) but never finding real love. We’re so used to this idea of a life experienced through the mind, through letters, being “less than”. But in Dickison, Emily is young, and has not yet become a recluse.  As the show takes pains to stress, whatever life Emily built for herself, it was the one she wanted.

Many criticised the show online and on Instagram comment sections for the liberties it seemed to be taking with the truth. Emily didn’t run wild in orchards, or kiss women, or smoke opium, or even want her poems published! Films like Terrence Davies’ 2016 biopic, A Quiet Passion, portray Dickinson in a more expected light, a quiet, terrified woman, unprepared for the real world. But as Rachel Handler explored in a wonderful article for Vulture, it is really not so clear that Emily actually was such a homebody. Madeleine Olnek’s 2018 film Wild Nights With Emily turns that assumption on its head and showed Dickinson as a fun, queer (perhaps a lesbian), exciting and ramshackle woman. Apple Tv’s Dickinson does similar things; it teases out what’s already in the source material – a loud passion for life, for nature, a life deeply felt and experienced.

Her relationship with Susan is explored beautifully and is truly one of the shows’ greatest strengths. Meet me in the orchard, Emily asks in a letter dropped down in a basket. It’s  a beautifully shot scene, and a visual pleasure to watch them watching each other, framed by red apples, one dressed in white and the other in black. You’re not sure if they’re just friends – until Emily asks “Sue” to promise her she’ll always love her more than her brother, and they kiss.

This relationship has been theorised on extensively by literary scholars, but largely discarded by the academy, especially during the years of the “Lavender Scare” of the mid 20th century.  Martha Nell Smith and Ellen Louise Hart published a book in 1998 called Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson, a compilation of Emily’s letters to Susan, undeniable expressions of romantic love. “I love you as dearly, Susie, as when love first began, on the step at the front door, and under the Evergreens.”

Dickinson really marries well the nods to the poet’s extensive literary output, with excellent TV. A particular success is Emily in a blood-red dress, leaving behind the virginal white for her nightly carriage ride with death. Later on, as Billie Eilish plays, discussions of the afterlife – “publicity is not the same thing as immortality” – reference one of her most famous poems: “The Carriage held but just Ourselves – /And Immortality.” The scene is charged as Emily – literally – flirts with Death, and the whole show drips with vivacity and sex. There’s competition, romantic and physical, for Sue’s affections by Emily and her brother, against the backdrop of Susan’s sister’s funeral – their youth is inevitably tinged with loss and death. Even as we see the preparation of a bountiful feast, the audience is treated to a close up of a chicken being killed.

Again, anyone reading Dickinson’s poetry would notice her fascination with death (“I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –”) but there’s the sexy, flirtatious side to her isn’t fictional. She  once mailed Kate Scott Turner a poem alongside a pair of garters. Kate Scott Turner is believed by many to have had a brief fling with Dickinson. She ended up living an openly gay life in Europe and is in the only existing daguerrotype of Dickinson

It’s by no means a perfect show, of course. The dialogue is often awkward, and there’s a weird interplay between archaic and modern language: lots of “I shall” followed by “I’m pretty psyched about it”. It seems to be a point about age – the younger characters use slang, while the parents are stilted and formal. But it doesn’t quite work. There’s slightly too many slick gimmicks, it’s a bit too instagram-generation in its aesthetics – it needs more soul, something Dickinson’s poems never lacked.

The greatest value in Dickinson is the way it reminds us of the power of our own imagination to soothe and to fulfill us – something we should all keep in mind in the midst of Week 5. Don’t limit yourself to writing what you know, write what you feel. Emily Dickinson may have lived out the end of her life in one room, but she travelled in her mind. Vivid emotions, despair and trauma run deep in Dickinson’s poems; “‘It was not Death, for I stood up” is a delicate meditation of what we are capable of surviving. But there is also a deep lust for life –  “I taste a liquor never brewed/From tankards scooped in pearl”.

The show as a result seems to be more about what Emily Dickinson’s life could have been, if it had been more fair. It’s an  assumption that in society as it is today, there is more to offer, to “fearless” women like Emily. She “dwells in Possibility”, as she wrote herself, and so does Apple TV’s Dickinson.

Podcasts by women and non-binary people you need to listen to

I love podcasts. I spend more time listening to them than I do my lecturers. Everyone has heard of ‘The Guilty Feminist’ but have you listened to these? Here are some top picks of podcasts run by women and non-binary people to spice up your walk to and from lectures this week.

  1. The Receipts Podcastreceipts

A podcast providing a space for women of colour speaking openly and honestly about relationships, friendships, and the issues they encounter in daily life. Have a listen to episode 71 for an interview with Cambridge graduates Ore and Chelsea (authors of Taking up Space). This is “unadulterated girl talk with no filter” and it’s a lot of fun.

2. Secret Dinosaur Cultdinosaur

Secret Dinosaur Cult is a podcast run by non binary comedians Sofie Hagen and Jodie Mitchell. This is a cult where you will be offered forgiveness for the worst things you have done, and Jodie and Sofie will tell you about when they’ve been terrible people. They explore their childhood trauma and abandonment issues through the medium of dinosaurs. This podcast will make you laugh, cry and you might learn a thing or two about dinosaurs too.

3. No Country for Young Womenno country

A podcast from the BBC about the experiences of young women of colour in the UK. Hosts Sadia Azmat and Monty Onanuga are joined by special guests to discuss topics such as culture, motherhood, racism, and sexuality.

4. Just Between Usbetween

Just Between Us is a comedy podcast hosted by Alison Raskine and Gaby Dunn. They take listener questions, bring on guests, and play hypothetical games such as “would you stay with this cheater?” and “Are you a terrible parent?” As well as the comedy, they also have some frank conversations about mental health and sexuality (Gaby is bisexual and non-monogamous and suffers from bipolar disorder and Alison has OCD).

5. Made of Humanhuman

Another one by Sofie Hagen. In this podcast, Sofie interviews guests and their gentle questioning tends to bring out intense and emotional conversation. Topics often include fat activism, feminism, and trauma. A particular favourite episode of mine is with Susan Calman, where the two of them talk about their struggles with depression, and Susan talks about her gender expression and going on Strictly Come Dancing as a lesbian.

6. Bad with Moneymoney

Another podcast by Just Between Us host Gaby Dunn. In Bad with Money, Gaby talks about the struggles of dealing with money as a millennial and talks to activists and financial experts. Her description of the show sums it up best:

“Feelings, finance, and the f*cking system. Comedian and New York Times best-selling author Gaby Dunn (aka America’s Deadbeat Sweetheart) unapologetically examines the intersection of finances and social justice. Every week, Gaby brings a queer, feminist, unabashedly radical point of view to conversations with journalists, politicians, activists, and fellow deadbeats.”

7.  Call Your Girlfriendgirlfriend

A show by long distance best friends Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow. Topics include body hair, pronouns, activism, race, and disability. They believe in women connecting and speaking out against structural inequality.

“We are unapologetic feminists who support everyone’s right to autonomy over their own body. We believe that friendship—particularly among women and femme-identified people—is a defining, important, and powerful relationship, and that conversations among friends can be the source of incredible social and political power. Women sharing their experiences with each other is a potentially life-changing act. It’s also really fucking fun.”

8. Sex Power Moneysex

To go with her new book Sex Power Money, Sara Pascoe has released eight podcast episodes where she talks to people related to the sex industry to demystify it for the average listener. Topics include stripping, sex work and being a sugar baby. This podcast allows those that are so often talked about, to talk for themselves.

The Politics of Muting on Social Media

Is muting people rude, or is it the only way to healthily manage our social media personas?

In Cambridge’s fast-paced world, it can feel like people’s social media does nothing but sparkle. There’s been a lot written in Cambridge about imposter syndrome, to the extent that I’m almost tired of discussing it now – but it is true. Every day it feels like there’s another post about a play, or a society, or an academic achievement.

Sometimes, you just may not want to see those posts. You could unfollow them, but that would likely lead to highly fraught social situations – everyone takes offence at being unfollowed.

And that, my friends, is where muting comes in.

So what is it? I’m going to focus on Instagram here, not least because it’s interesting to consider what muting means in the context of other recent-ish innovations, like the Close Friends stories. You can choose to unfollow people on Facebook, but, honestly, who uses Facebook anymore? Instagram has taken the blue behemoth’s place as the internet’s diary, and it’s where I personally mute people, and where most people do. You press a button on their profile that makes their feed (their posts, their stories, or both) essentially disappear. No one knows they’ve been muted so, no hard feelings.

Why do we do it? Muting doesn’t happen for negative reasons alone. I’ve muted people because they post too much, or I flaked on a commitment and feel guilty when I see their posts. This is precisely why muting is interesting, psychologically. You can still love a person, but feel distanced from them, and not really want to see their content daily, or their 15 identical shots of dappled light hitting a river (guilty).

Muting people can be temporary, too, and temporary mutes can be motivated by jealousy. While I was still trying to sort out an internship mid-summer, I had to take some time out of seeing grad-scheme stories on people’s instagrams. It takes a while for me to mute someone, but not for everyone. One friend I asked for this column, joked, “I have a one strike rule…one dud post and they’re out”. Muting can be, then, a Mari Kondo-ing of your feed, if you feel your feed doesn’t spark the joy that Mark Zuckerberg intended it to.

It’s the same idea as Close Friends story – a way of exposing your truest and, sometimes, worst self. There you post a private side  to yourself, often of a confessional nature, featuring discussions about your sex life, ugly pictures, updates on mental health. It’s a side to you that you’re not necessarily comfortable exposing. Muting, however, is more often about keeping FOMO at bay, and controlling the amount and the quality of posts that stream our way. I think it’s born out of social media exhaustion – you know that feeling when you’ve scrolled a bit too long and you’re looking for something but you don’t know what? For me, it feels like eating something sweet for too long. It’s too many nice pictures – I get toothache from the saccharine smiles.

Do the different gradations of muting make a difference? What kind of relationship do you have with someone you only mute stories from, and not posts, or vice versa, or both?

Another friend, when asked, said it did make a difference. “Often I just mute stories. The main benefit for me is being able to keep the semblance of being on good terms with people at home (that I’ve drifted from), because actually unfollowing them would be too fractious”. Politeness often dictate that you can’t unfollow someone you have a fraught but civil relationship with, even if you’d rather not see their posts. To unfollow is tantamount to an official friendship end, and not everyone is ready for that.

What’s striking, then, is that these updates clearly go against what social media is allegedly about – keeping up with people. It’s a tacit understanding that we do want more private lives than our follower count may suggest. It’s funny – the internet can be characterised as some entity devoid of humanity, changing social norms, but I find it’s deeply run by unspoken codes of human interaction.

We’re moving towards a social media world where you can increasingly narrow your social circle, in apps built ostensibly for widening it to the entire world. There is a similar rationale behind private instagrams (‘finstas’ or ‘spams’). We’ve gone from anonymous chat rooms in the early 200s, to an emphasis everywhere on “curating” your online experience.

This all may seem microscopic in importance, but these apps do play a significant part in how we interact with each other in daily life, especially “millennials” and the generations below. Their effect on the etiquettes of managing human relationships are important to consider.

To conclude this ode to muting, it really does seem to allow us to manage relationships and our social media personas better in this digital age. Before Instagram and Facebook you could just drift apart and, I don’t know, not follow their MySpace anymore. But today’s internet is a far more constant onslaught of content. With friends from home, we may feel alienated from them, having changed so much at uni. Feeling cut off from people is painful, but we live in complex networks of friendships as the social animals we are. Unfollowing is a far more definite statement, when a silent, pacifying mute does the trick.

I read an article on i-D about close friends stories, that had a similar conclusion. One of the people spoken to said, “It gives me control over my digital self in a space where so much of me is exposed.” Letting go is great, but control (when it comes to social media) might be better.

‘MOODS and NOODS’ review: Exploring Millenial Nostalgia in Cambridge

By Atlanta Tsiaoukkas 

‘MOODS and NOODS’, an exhibition by PIN_COLLECTIVE, is at the new Motion Sickness gallery space, in the unlikely location of Lion Yard. The uninspiring streets of cafes and shops, in fact, makes the gallery space appear inviting to those who love anything millennial, with flashes of pink and a gaudy, cereal-topped waffle (EJ Montgomery) as the window display. The space is part of an ongoing project by Cambridge School of Art graduates, Arabella Hilfiker, Denise Kehoe and Eleanor Breeze to stimulate the currently quite dull art scene in Cambridge, allowing experimental, young artists to be celebrated in dedicated spaces. So far, this venture can be considered successful, as the ‘MOODS and NOODS’ exhibition has meant that, whilst many in Cambridge feel the need to get on a train to see new art, for a couple of weeks, it is only a short walk away. 

The exhibition clearly explored ‘millennialhood’, and if this concept can be defined by one feature it is nostalgia. News outlets regularly decry the younger generations for an ‘obsession’ with nostalgia, often with a further comment shaming us for missing the past when we have it so good now. With ‘MOODS and NOODS’, PIN_COLLECTIVE have fully embraced the millennial stereotype, with all artists touching on themes of nostalgia, whether it be paintings inspired by childhood cereals (EJ Montgomery), child-like collages (Lily Rankine), or a princess themed play tent (Holly Rose Jackson). However, unlike many artists who today work with nostalgia, the pieces fortunately did not feel trite, rather, there was a sense of pushing boundaries, exploring, perhaps, what is hidden behind young people’s love of nostalgia. In particular, this can be said of the larger-than-life paintings of cereal packaging, which, though taking such direct inspiration from advertising is relatively common in the art world at the moment, felt like an appropriate acknowledgement of a collective millennial childhood, tainted by excessively bright colours and capitalistic endeavours. 

Screen Shot 2019-10-22 at 14.36.35

There was also an underlying sense of anxiety, evoked by the pieces themselves and the experience in the gallery space. Much of the work, such as the the various sculptures, were scattered throughout the floorspace of the gallery, risking being knocked by passersby, immediately creating a nervousness amongst viewers, especially as, usually, artwork is kept at a reverential distance. Considering the familiar content of many of these pieces, it feels only right that we almost slip on plastic bags from the corner shop and trip over abandoned cardboard boxes, just as we did as children. Even more anxiety-provoking was a specific sculpture by Gwen Senhui Chen, in which the piece dripped a cement-like substance directly on the floor – as the sculpture dripped, the floorspace reduced (it was much harder getting out of the gallery than getting in). These physical choices complemented the work brilliantly, such as Holly Rose Jackson’s film (found within the princess tent), which was described by one viewer as ‘American Headspace’, referencing the manic yet calmingly repetitive and meditative voice over. The exhibition was full of contrasts between millennial colourful childhood and the stress-inducing world we live in now. 

The nostalgia of this exhibition is seemingly both joyful and distressed. The ethos of PIN is ‘our interests include…pretty colours…mocking you…mocking ourselves.’, and this very much comes through in their self-referential and nervous composition. This is definitely not just an exhibition exploring nostalgia, but one which explores corrupted nostalgia. The work reminds you of when your innocence was questioned – when you accidentally saw a porn ad whilst trying to watch a cartoon; when you realised that cereal boxes were colourful and exciting purely to make you ask your mum to buy it. 

If just to support two young collectives, one with the aim to make Cambridge a great city for art, you should go to this exhibition. You should also attend regardless of your loyalty to the art world – it is a thought-provoking, stimulating exhibition which will keep you thinking long after you’ve visited. 

17th October – 3rd November 2019 

15 Petty Cury, Lion Yard, Cambridge CB2 3NE 

11am – 4pm, Friday to Sunday. 5pm – 8pm Wednesday 

Header artwork by Corinne Seymour

On Work Habits

I’d thought for a while on what to start off my Girl Talk column with – a deep dive into the Caroline Calloway scandal is always tempting, of course. But, seeing my newsfeeds covered in posts about Mental Health Awareness Day, I felt compelled to write about something which everyone in this university talks about constantly, it seems: work.

It’s a funny word to use, for our constant succession of deadlines, readings and worksheets, and can lead to confusion. If I use it at home, with friends not at university at the moment, they’re puzzled, and say they thought we weren’t allowed at part-time job at Cambridge. Oh no, I reassure them, this isn’t something you can clock out of, at the end of the day- there’s always something else you could be doing, another book to read or more essays to do. Term has just started and I already feel like I’m behind, fielding emails, ramming a summer’s worth of dissertation reading into a few days, all the while nurturing the friendships that keep me going.

Anxiety has been a part of my life at least since the age of 16, and it has always been connected to my academic performance. Receiving an email from a supervisor can leave me terrified to open Hermes, and the way my heart beats right before my history supervisions could probably power the Industrial Revolution. Work and mental health in Cambridge are inextricable, and it’s an even more pernicious issue when counselling and mental health adjustments are underfunded and inaccessible.

Now, a few caveats. I don’t mean for one second to imply it’s a harder life to be in my cushy (but expensive! #cuttherent) Medwards accommodation reading about the early Japanese state than working a full time job for minimum wage. Also, plenty of people here may have a perfectly healthy relationship with their work. In which case: keep on reading and shake your head in despair.

I realise I am by no means the first person to say Cambridge’s approach to academic work is unhealthy. It feels like fairly common knowledge – we’ve all seen people pull constant all nighters, work after a night out, and the atmosphere in college during exam term is, well, very particular.

The supervision system, I think, actually makes this worse – we find ourselves in fairly intense academic relationships with adults who frequently have no tact or sense of emotional intelligence. Stories about supervisors making people cry are a dime a dozen. I also feel that issues of cultural capital come into play here: if you’re used to the supervision system because your school had a similar level of one-to-one attention, you may not be as intimidated by the prospect of asking for an extension, for help, or just saying ‘no’ for one week. This will then be compounded for people of colour and otherwise marginalised students who don’t see themselves in the academics they’re supervised by. As women, we’re socialised also to please others, to be ‘polite’ and ‘nice’ and ask for, rather than state, our needs.

Here’s what I want to say: if you struggle completing all your work and you feel like an imposter – you’re not alone! The feeling of being crept up on by work is felt by everyone around you, I can assure you. I scalded myself quite badly with boiling tea three weeks ago so the start of my time in Cambridge was marked by A&E visits and some reduced mobility – especially frustrating when the things you have to do are far away.

Second, you really, genuinely, do not have to do as much work as they say. A tip for humanities students: not every essay has to be done, so be smart and figure out what topics you can avoid revising. Without meaning to sound like an HSPS student, deadlines are social constructs. I handed in my first essay here 6 hours late, which very much set the tone for my academic career in general. I think I’ve handed in two essays on time in my time here, and it literally does not matter. Prioritise yourself, your way of working and your mental health.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what has really helped me is to think about self-care and leisure as deliberate acts. As Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light and Other Essays “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. It’s a beautiful phrase, as is all of Lorde’s writing. Of course, Lorde was writing as a black lesbian feminist in America, and her work is very much directed at the experience of black women. She expressed in her succinct prose something that’s at the heart of what I want to write about today. Caring for yourself in a world where mental health care has been slashed by cuts, where people wait for weeks for appointments at the University Counselling Service or the Disability Resource Centre, or never receive funding for private counselling their college offered them, and   creating spaces of care and community amongst your friends, in this space, does feel radical.

Basically, a message for everyone: you can take time for yourself. You’re not a productivity machine. Have little rebellions, and hold on to them when Week Five hits.

Solitude and bliss

This summer felt different from pretty much every summer I’ve had, mostly because I made the effort to spend time alone, and give myself space. Space to think, breathe and act. Not to paraphrase Virginia Woolf too much, but when you have that space for yourself, it turns out, the life epiphanies come thick and fast.

Summers are a tricky thing. At least for me, they’ve always been fraught with peaks and troughs of hope and disappointment – I’d start the summer willing this to be the year I return in September fitter, prettier, somehow cooler only to face the disappointment come late August that that’s not, in fact, how life works.

In comparison, summers as a child were almost violently joyful things. I lived in Spain until I was about 13, and the thing I most remember about my summers there are the colours. Blue, mainly, obviously. There’s something about that never-ending turquoise sky of mid-July when clouds seem an impossibility. But also the bleached white of long sleepy Augusts in Madrid, when everyone else who could had left the city. When we moved to a little village nestled in the Spanish sierra, my memories are coloured with the golden green and dark woods of the mountains. You’d wake up to the sound of a donkey braying, and there’d be nothing to do but swim and sunbathe.

That’s all fantastic when you’re 8 and anxiety hasn’t hit you like a ton of bricks yet, but once it does, I’ve always found too much solitude to be counterproductive. We still go back every summer since we moved to the UK, and I’ve spent a lot of my teenage summers simmering with stress over a vague sense of not doing things right. Not sure what things those were, but they were there and they were not being done right. Summers away from my Cambridge friends can be especially apprehensive, considering I’m surrounded by the loud presence of my 3 siblings, my parents, my maternal grandparents and whatever extended family wants to drop in that day.

So, I began to seek out quiet corners of my garden, or solitary walks under the shadow that the mountain range cast on the village once the sun began to set behind it. It sounds very basic, but for someone not used to consciously taking care of myself, those 20 minutes of yoga every morning began to be a little treasure. This also meant taking care of my body as a physical thing – sport! Exercise! A revelation! I stretched, I swam 20 laps a day, I downloaded a workout app. I’d always hated sports, but there’s an undeniable magic in scratching out time to Not Think. You feel the burn, the sweat, but your mind goes quiet. Maybe the #LiveLaughLove peddlers have a point.

Doing more activity meant I slept easier, and crucially, had more focus to sit down and read. I’d gone from reading voraciously, countless books every month, when I was 10, and then as academics hit hard during my teenage years, my reading had dwindled to a point where during my first year at Cambridge I read maybe one book all year. I read three just this summer, which was a big deal for me. These were a collection of Joan Didion essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, the Stephen King-esque Summer of Night by Dan Simmons, and Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee. Didion’s lush, verbose descriptions of her native, nostalgia infused Southern California are exactly what you need when you’re feeling morose on a summer evening, in case you were wondering.

At the end of the summer, I took my first trip to the USA, where my father is from, to do dissertation research in Richmond, Virginia. I was still reeling from the end of year-long relationship the week before, and felt cast away, tense and afraid, knowing where my anxiety could take me in stressful situations alone. It felt like a revelation to realise that I could bring the healthy, solitary habits I’d developed over the summer with me anywhere. After one stressful day at the freezing air-conditioned archives, I took myself to see a free exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. I wandered around the 21st century art rooms – large rocks stuccoed to the wall, technicolour ribbons creeping from one wall the other, all meaning and form broken down- and planned the dinner I was going to have at a nearby Cuban restaurant. That was my first meal at a restaurant alone. It’s somehow taken me 21 years to realise there’s a real joy to be had in solitude, but I’m glad I got there.

A Tale of Two Cities

Last summer was supposed to be my summer of healing. Recovering from the last of a chronic illness that had plagued the majority of my first year, my overwhelming feeling was gratitude. I felt lucky because I was, for all intents and purposes, ‘cured’. It wasn’t until this summer that I realised what it feels like to actually heal.

Taking things day by day, I didn’t realise that I had spent the best part of 2018 living cautiously, half enjoying things, either preoccupied by pain or worried that I was over exerting myself. Even though by the time summer came the worst of this had gone, a part of my vivacity had gone with it. I felt lost – not having completed my exams, spending so much time at home alone, missing out on events with friends. Even though my pain and illness had gone away, it had taken a part of me with it. The result was a summer of feeling lost, anxious about going back to Cambridge and being behind, feeling like a disappointment for not Making The Most Of My Summer, withdrawing myself from friends and feeling guilty for even feeling these feelings in the first place.

This summer I healed when I didn’t know I needed to. I felt myself collecting up all the parts of myself that I didn’t realise had been sucked out of me. I’ve spent this summer between two cities that could not be more different, Delhi and Boston;  Delhi for six glorious weeks working for a women’s trade union, and four weeks in Harvard on an exchange program. Both cities pieced me back together in their own ways.

Delhi

Delhi,

You gave me back my love. 

You reminded me of the importance of platonic love, how wonderful my friends are, and how they never went anywhere, even when I did. You gave me new friends, some fleeting, some firm. You reminded me that being surrounded by the right people can turn the worst situations into the best stories.

You reinvigorated my love for women. You blessed me with the oasis of Women Only carriages on the metro and working in an office every day where the only male presence was the man who brought the tea. You surrounded me with the whole spectrum of womanhood; women who were CEOs, matriarchs, street vendors; ninety year old farmers who were fitter than me, and young girls deciding what kind of footprint they wanted to leave on the world. You reminded me that, as a woman in most places, it is often the case that to exist is to resist, and existing can be fucking exhausting.

You reminded me of my passion for the causes I believe in. Giving me the time and space to read, to learn from people I was surrounded with and the work that I was doing, you reignited a love that had been dulled by a bubble of self indulgent privilege.

boston

Boston,

I was afraid to visit you, far more than I was to visit Delhi, but you gave me back my courage.

You gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone and meet new people, and the courage to not try and be someone that I’m not, regardless of whether it might be the easier option.

You gave me the courage to take up space. You reminded me that my opinion is valid and my voice matters, even (and especially) in an institution where it might be an unpopular one. You emboldened me to push back; whether it be against casual racialised remarks designed to make me feel small, or a white lecturer airbrushing history.

I was anxious to write this. I didn’t know where to start because I hadn’t spent my summer thinking about how everything I was doing was Making Me Feel and What Lessons I Was Learning. But sitting down to write this the first thing I mindlessly noted down was “feeling happy”. I have felt happy, and I have felt like me again, and that is enough.

Just Keep Swimming

Two years ago I had the worst summer of my life.

I was suffering from the most intense wave of anxiety I’d ever experienced and it was making it difficult to leave the house for long periods of time. One of the things that helped a lot was swimming.

Swimming didn’t cure my anxiety, that’s an ongoing process which has evolved as I’ve gotten older, but it helped me to gain a sense of control over a body that I felt disconnected from. Like a moving meditation, I used to repeat mantras to myself with each stroke to block out the thoughts and feelings which threatened to overwhelm me.

I heard the voice of my childhood swimming teacher:
Pull-and-breathe, kick-and-glide, pull-and-breathe, kick-and-glide

I replaced it with the words I needed to hear:
I am alive, I am alive, I-am-alive, I-am-alive

I am ok, I am ok, I-am-ok, I-am-ok

This will end, this will end, this-will-end, this-will-end

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I spent the last two summers in Berlin where I was working for my year abroad. I lived in a suburb in the south west, an easy train ride away from large lakes perfect for swimming. I took every opportunity to go, alone or with friends, to feel the cold water and the rhythm of a good swim.

When I moved last summer, I needed that calming feeling again. I needed to feel a sense of control after it felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under my entire life. People talk about how a year abroad is fun and life changing, but they forget it’s also terrifying and settling can take a long time. Swimming gave me the feeling, if only temporarily, that everything was normal again. For a few minutes I could be back at the pool with my mum, thinking about the coffees we were going to have when we got out. Or I could be nowhere at all, zoned out and trying desperately not to think about anything at all.

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This summer I’ve been back to the lakes more times than I can count. I waited all spring for the water to melt and for the temperature to rise enough to make swimming bearable. I am able to swim now just because I love it, rather than to escape my reality.

The lakes surrounding Berlin are deep, formed by glaciers, and as I swim out to the middle I like to think about the massive expanse which has opened up below me. I am floating above a chasm which I will never see the bottom of, made by something so huge and ancient. I sometimes find it hard to see what people find so interesting about pots and vases in museums, but when I am in the middle of the lake, I feel a deep sense of connection to the past. I imagine it is the same feeling they get when they look at objects made by humans long ago. I know that I am just a tiny slice of this lake’s history. I am a passer-by.

I am not a particularly good swimmer, but I love to swim, especially outside. There is something deeply satisfying about the feeling of pushing off into water. It feels like breathing out. There is nothing like the weightless glide and cold shiver of the first dive. I’ve been swimming so long that my movements are automatic and I can let my body take over. For the most part, all that runs through my head is the steady rhythm, pull-and-breathe, kick-and-glide. It is time to myself and to look after my body.

Looking towards the coming year, I want to keep prioritising looking after myself. This year away from Cambridge has been great for my mental health as I’ve taken more time for self-care and self-reflection. I want to keep my focus on my well-being and remember that personal success is more important than academic success. And of course, I’m planning to keep swimming when I can. Because at my worst I still need reminding: I am alive, I am ok, and this will end.

 

Image credit: pics_by_nics

The Abyss

Ciara Dossett

It’s late August. The shops are crammed with ‘back to school’ regalia; school jumpers in every imaginable colour, fluorescent highlighters, sensible shoes. But, for the first year since I was 4, I will not be joining the hordes returning to education. Slightly terrifyingly, I won’t be going into anything at all.

At the start of the year I considered this to be the worst possible outcome: to have nothing secured. As an addictive planner I had applied for countless jobs (with an equal number of rejections), desperate to have something confirmed for the following September. Not to do so, I thought, would somehow be a failure.

Instead, like so many millennials, I have moved back home with my parents. Swapping the stress and excitement of university life for the bumbling countryside and mundane summer jobs seems jarring. This post-university nothingness feels like a directionless blur, something I have somewhat dramatically begun to refer to as the abyss.

I realise I am in a privileged position, with parents who are willing and able to allow me to move home for a while. For this, I am grateful. But, with the prevalence of Instagram compare-culture, it’s sometimes hard for other people’s exciting lives not to make you feel inadequate.

Many seem to be in the same position, however. A recent article in The Times reported that a quarter of those aged 20 to 34 were living at home last year. Only a handful of my peers have dream jobs and apartments secured. Most are similarly taking time off to figure out what they want to do. When discussing this phenomenon with a friend, she commented on how we’ve been driven for so long that to take some time off to relax, re-evaluate and have fun seemed an alien concept.

Slowly, however, I’m beginning to the realise that real life doesn’t operate from September to September. That it’s ok to take time off to reset and rethink. That it’s fine not to have a plan, whatever well-meaning older relatives may say to the contrary. That perhaps the abyss isn’t something to be feared but celebrated and enjoyed. To have time to read books for enjoyment rather than for essays, to exercise, to see friends, to explore the world, all without the pressure of the imminent return to a desk, a freedom I might never have again.

Success is not instant nor does it necessarily result in happiness. In fact, I’ve come to realise the times when I’ve been happiest had little to do with success at all. So instead of planning my next career move, I’m jumping on a long-haul flight with two of my best friends in the whole world. And, after that, who knows? For once the addictive planner has no plan. I’m trying to see this as liberating rather than terrifying. Wish me luck…

Cover photo source: author’s own photo. 

 

A review of “Football, Feminism & Everything in between”

Selin Zeyrek

This summer sees the introduction of a new podcast by Grace and Alistair Campbell (yes, that one), a father and daughter pair that is funnier than it should be. Alistair is a politician, best known for being Blair’s ‘spin doctor’; Grace is a feminist activist and comedian. Each week, they invite a guest to discuss ‘football, feminism and everything in between’, and while they always begin on either football or feminism, the conversation frequently veers off into the ‘in between’ category. Part of the strength of this podcast is how different each of the guests are from one another: some notable ones include Ed Miliband, Ebony Rainford-Brent and Rachel Riley. The guests come from a variety of backgrounds, so their views and experiences of football and feminism are rarely the same. When the topic shifts, it can be to anything from private schools to whether politics is the best way to change the world.

Grace and Alistair make for a quick-witted and intelligent pair of interviewers: unafraid to openly criticise one another, their interactions are always lively and they bounce off each other with ease. As explained in the introduction, football is Alistair’s passion, feminism is Grace’s passion, and this podcast aims to integrate these two topics. As a staunch feminist and lukewarm football fan, I was at first skeptical as to how much I would be able to understand and enjoy the conversations about football. What has surprised me is that, although of course there is some discourse about the various managers of football teams through the years, football tends to open up into broader conversations about how to connect with the people important to you in your life, and how football is an extremely effective way to do this.

Rachel Riley is a good footballer in her own right, having played for her university team. However, her introduction to it stemmed from a reason other than a love of the sport: ‘it was the way I interacted with my father’, she explains. Multiple guests have brought up the fact that they become invested when England is playing, but they would otherwise not be termed a football fan. This revelation in particular is brought up near the beginning of each episode, where the Campbells ask their guest to rate how much of a football fan they are, and then how much of a feminist they are, from 1 to 10. Their answers are hardly ever straightforward, and lead onto the nuances of being a feminist and the different levels of football fan.

In a similar way, conversations that begin with feminism tend to open up into broader discussions about the difficulties these people have faced in their lifetime, and how they managed to overcome them and become successful. Especially relevant is the interview with Gabby Logan, the ex-gymnast who presented the BBC showing of the Women’s World Cup. Having been a sportswoman as well has having a footballer father and a rugby player husband, Logan represents the perfect overlap between the two main focuses of this podcast and contributes to probably one of the best episodes in the series so far. Logan, upon being questioned over the criticisms surrounding the USA women’s team’s celebration in their 13-0 win against Thailand, offers this response: ‘they beat the record after 11 goals – they became the biggest scoring [team]. Can you imagine if England’s men last summer stopped celebrating against Panama (which was the most one-sided game I’ve ever seen)? They wouldn’t have stopped celebrating. There’s a double standard with almost everything in women’s football… it’s like everything has to be justified: the crowds, the goals…’. Having had a wealth of experience in both men’s and women’s football, she is well-placed to make these comparisons; prior to this analysis, she gives a short history of women’s football in Britain, and her ultimate message is that things are improving: ‘watching the opening ceremony I was thinking ‘wow, this World Cup feels different already’ – in the crowds there were men, women, families – because of course this is important, there is no point having women’s football being watched only by women … it is a game-changer.’

The reason why this podcast is so enjoyable is because it is not restricted to a particular area of interest. The lack of structure allows the insights and reflections of the hosts and guests to shine through, whether they are discussing feminism in politics or how to deal with grief. Given the distinct differences between the life experiences of the guests, this means that each episode leads down a different path, the specific topics of football and feminism never being a barrier to getting the guests to talk about – well, basically anything. The podcast ends with the question of how best to make meaningful change in the world, where each guest is asked what their six-a-side team to change the world is. This feature reveals a lot about the person: some choose writers and artists, believing that culture is the best way to shift people’s perspectives; others choose motivational speakers and politicians, with the aim of altering policy. In any case, this podcast makes you laugh and also think about the dynamics and relationship of football and feminism.

Cover art source: audioboom.com

The inclusive politics of women’s football

Posy Putnam 

I have been attending male football matches for years, but only recently have begun to watch women’s football. Does this make me a bad feminist? Perhaps – but I would hope my newfound enthusiasm for the women’s sport rectifies my past ignorance. And I do not appear alone in showing such enthusiasm. My conversion to women’s football reflects a growing trend, with rising TV ratings and match attendances. Indeed, 11.7 million people watched England lose to the USA in the Women’s World Cup semi-final in early July – the most-watched TV event of the year.

That semi-final also served as my full introduction to the US Women’s Team. Of course, I had seen a few of their earlier matches and caught the headlines centred around Rapinoe’s attacks on President Trump. However, as I followed the American women’s progression into the final, I was struck by the sheer volume and pride in their queer representation.

On July 7th in Lyon, as the crowd cheered the United States’ win in the Women’s Football World Cup, Kelly O’Hara ran over to kiss her girlfriend. Behind her, engaged teammates Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger celebrated, as did co-captain Megan Rapinoe, and head coach Jill Ellis. Whilst O’Hara had never publicly commented on her sexuality, all of these other women were publicly and unashamedly gay. O’Hara, meanwhile, felt comfortable enough to out herself on live, international television.

This victory snapshot illustrates one of the core aspects of women’s football that has made me such a fan: its unabashed inclusiveness. This is something that the women’s game appears to have taken on and celebrated – highlighted by the official Twitter account for the US Women’s National Team’s tongue-in-cheek re-tweet of Rapinoe’s quote, “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before. Ever. That’s science right there,” with the caption “Told ya”, following their World Cup victory.

This tweet was no attempt to play down some of the players’ queer identity to make them more palatable to a wider audience, or to attract greater sponsorships. No – it was a bald statement of the inclusive, vocal identity the team has taken on, spear-headed by Rapinoe. After all, this is also a team who sued the US Soccer Federation for equal pay with the men’s side – leading to chants ringing out following their win of “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!” – and used their World Cup victory parade to reiterate their demands. Rapinoe was also the first white athlete to kneel for the American National Anthem, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and during the course of the World Cup, attracted criticism for refusing to put her hand on her heart for the anthem.

Contrast this to men’s football. Political causes are rarely part of its discourse, and queerness is largely seen only in the context of homophobic chants and jeers. The fact that so few male players have ever publicly come out as gay is testament to the fact that men’s football simply is not a safe space for it. It was not twenty years ago, when Justin Fashanu, the first professional footballer to be openly gay, killed himself in 1998, and it is still not today. This is not to say that no efforts have been made – the Premier League did partner with Stonewall for the Rainbow Laces campaign with the aim of tackling homophobia in sport – but inclusiveness appears largely as a top-down policy, orchestrated by governing bodies, whereas the US Women’s Team demonstrated a more grass-roots approach.

However, inclusivity in women’s football goes beyond the US team. In many senses, women’s football feels like a more radical space than the men’s sport. Indeed, the existence and success of the sport itself is a challenge to football’s traditionally masculine association and assumptions, if not yet its inherent power structures. Following on from this, the queer representation at all levels of the women’s sport helps support a wider shift in how society accepts queer women. These women are strong athletes, great commentators, and masterful tacticians, not merely a punch-line in a joke, or reduced to a category on Pornhub.

This inclusive politics does not take away from the football itself – instead, it adds to it. I am able to invest far more in teams I identify with, who have players I follow off of the pitch. The support that the US team has garnered is merely an example of this phenomenon. Football has never just been about the pure, unsullied game on the pitch – pub disputes over penalties given, the buying of your team’s scarf, player transfer speculation and the chants sung during the match all serve to make the game so popular, and so integral to many people’s daily lives. For me, queer representation in the sport is an extension of this.

For too long, my sexuality has led to a feeling of otherness, of uncertainty and, predominantly, simply not feeling safe, when combined with my love for football. However, the more inclusive politics of the women’s game, introduced to me through the US Women’s Team at this World Cup, has opened the door to new possibilities for me. Rapinoe’s kick of the ball was not a magic solution to the problem of homophobia and discrimination in sport, but the success of the World Cup did give me, and others like me, a sense of hope and validation. It was, in many ways, a lifeline; I am allowed to love both football and women, and the Women’s World Cup was a glorious space to come to terms with this.

Cover image source: the author’s own artwork.

Spotlight artist: Isobel Richards

In case our readers don’t have/follow us on Instagram, could you please give a little introduction of who you are and what you’re up to at the minute?

Hi, I’m Issy and I’m a postgraduate student studying for a PGCE at Cambridge. I love being creative and try to draw as frequently as possible in my spare time. I’ve been embroidering sporadically for about a year- I started embroidering on shirts originally (an avocado was the first thing I embroidered) and well, it grew from there! Following the series of comments that embroidery is an ‘old lady’s hobby’, I’ve been trying to ‘get with the times’ and have recently started experimenting with digital mediums and sharing my work on social media.

How would you describe your art?

I would describe my art as quite abstract and simplistic- it’s just a series of lines really!

What drives you to create? What or who inspires you? 

Aside from other feminist artists and line drawings that I like, I’m also heavily inspired by female experience. Being surrounded by amazingly empowered, educated women; at uni and in life, I wanted to find a way to convey and solidify the beauty & power of female strength, form and experience through art. Creativity and art are also a way that I can switch off, so I’m driven by my own sanity as well!

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Do you have a few stellar Instagram accounts you would recommend?

YES- so many! In this day and age (I sound like an old lady again), Instagram is such a good platform for sharing art with the world! From an artistic perspective, there are a series of illustration accounts that I love: @arewenearlybareyet is a great one- the simple colours are beautiful, @gemmacorrell is fantastic for aspiring adults and the reality of day-to-day life. From an embroidery perspective: @ohmygollyembroidery is brilliant and very creative, and from a general life point of view, @danschawbel is stellar; very inspirational.

Do you feel your art has a trajectory and do you think it needs one?

No, I don’t really feel my art has a trajectory- I fear that having a rigid ‘trajectory’ could put a bit of a dampener on my creativity; the need to create something within a time frame would be quite stifling I think, so I just work as and when I have time or want to. At the moment I’m just trying to develop my own personal style and way of working.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given to do with your art?

The best piece of advice that I was given was by my friend Alex and it was that: “nothing else matters” when art is involved. Other people’s expectations and personal insecurities should go out the window and I should just focus on the moment and what I’m doing. A beautifully profound comment really.

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Make sure to follow Issy’s art account on Instagram @by_issy_

Grad Talk with Harriet Lamb

Blanca Schofield-Legorburo 

I was so fortunate to have Harriet Lamb onto my Camfm radio show. An international development stalwart and Cosmopolitan’s 2008 Eco-Queen, Harriet’s career spans decades of working in organisations such as the World Development Movement (WDM) and as CEO of Fairtrade UK and now International Alert. During the show we spoke about her varied experiences in this field, including protests and more organisational work, as well as observations and advice she would give to a woman hoping to go into international development today. Read on to see what this amazing woman had to say on these topics.


Tell us a bit about your degree in Cambridge.

When I first came to Cambridge (Trinity Hall) I read English because I wasn’t aware of all the different options there were. I was good at English and loved it – among other things, it helps you think about words and how you present them. However, I became more interested in politics and switched to HSPS – this was a gift of being in Cambridge as I was lucky to be able to switch. Then I was able to begin work on the love of my life: politics and social activism.

Were you always interested in world affairs?

As a child I spent 3 years in Maharashtra in central India because of my father’s job, thus I was exposed to and always knew about terrible poverty. Yet I also learnt from that age that though imperial history has kept them poor, countries like India are also more than capable of tackling poverty themselves. I then went back to India when I was 18 to teach English, and began thinking more about these issues. After Cambridge, I went back again for 2 years and lived in villages and worked with small NGOS. Then when I went on to work for Fairtrade I had seen what it is actually like to work for a Co-op and take on big forces. That experience always kept me grounded.

How did you envision and start your career?

I’ve never had a grand plan – I’ve taken opportunities when they’ve come and so far it’s worked out really luckily for me. I struggled in my final year of Cambridge, wondering if I wanted to go down the G&T or brown rice route. I chose brown rice! After India, I did an MPhil in development studies in Brighton at Sussex University. This gave an intellectual framing to what I’d learnt first hand. I then decided I didn’t want to work oversees, but back in Britain as we also had to sort out our own problems.

I worked first on low pay – campaigning in those days for a national minimum wage. This taught me that what some think is impossible and everyone thinks will be an economic catastrophe can and does work! Economists say all kinds of things are impossible, but you actually can introduce them.

I then worked with refugees in the North of England from Palestine, Ethiopia and then for the World Development Movement, which focuses on how England works with developing countries, particularly in cancel the debt and arms sales. For example, we wanted to highlight the financing of fighter jets of Britain to Indonesia, which was using them to bomb people in East Timor who were fighting for independence. I’ll tell you about a protest we did: we actually bought a share in Midland Bank so we could attend an AGM in the city (I still have my £1 share) then drove a hired tank through the city of London (having told the press) and went to the AGM, put up our hands and asked why they were financing the sales of these fighter jets. I did wonder if I was going to get arrested… But actually it was fine!

Did anything happen – did they change their policy?

Not immediately, but we were trying to put the spotlight on them. I’ve always believed in campaigning – sometimes you are lucky and have short-term wins, but more often that not you aim to shift the ground. Then these companies learn that there is a risk of protest and the risk factor is taken into account more and more so the next time they will think harder about it.

When campaigning you are up against enormous forces – look at Britain selling weapons to Saudis who are bombing Yemen and then we send aid to Yemen. What you come up against all the time is that people are mainly preoccupied with making profit, leading to ever-increasing inequality. You hope logic is what they will answer to, but it comes down to money and short-term profits. For example, Fairtrade is more expensive, but in the long run it helps the company position themselves as attractive and ethical. So you need to convince companies and corporations to put long term profits above short term. It is the same argument for divestment! If the university wants to situate itself in the future it has to think about divestment! It has to show that it is ready to take the high-ground and be a leader.

How did you pick the areas of international development you wanted to work in? You did so much!

While working for WDM I thought: what are the structural things that keep countries oppressed? Arms, aid and trade. Given the power of multinationals and the impact they have on trade, we then started pushing for a general code of conduct, which the world still doesn’t have. For an example we looked at bananas and campaigned against the use of agrochemicals and the suppression of trade unions in Latin America. We dumped a tonne of banana skins in front of Del Monte HQ in Kent to protest. I then got hooked on bananas! They are a symbol of so much that is wrong with how international trade works. How can we create a bubble where we show that you can do it differently? Bananas and Fairtrade.

You’ve done such a mixture of large-scale organising and protest and activism!

I did more protest at that time and then worked for Fairtrade for 15 years, which was about always creating a positive solution to show it could be different. The power of the positive alternative is so important.

Can you tell us about your experience of being a woman in international development – did you see equal opportunities?

It is a sector that seems to attract a lot of women. But then you look at leaders and they are very often men! This is because of sexism, but also women leave to have children. Though it is much better now than it was in my day, there is still not enough support for women or available and affordable childcare. Many employers don’t make juggling easy. I have been lucky with employers who let me work part-time after my second child. It’s great working part time at 3 or 4 days a week. I lived and worked in Germany and there part-time was much more normal: people work in the office and then are creative and help their family or community. You can still succeed with part-time! I also did a job share once and I think the organisation benefited hugely as it had 2 brains instead of 1.

Do you think women will only find equality when society becomes less fast-paced and focused on productivity?

I actually found that women and people who worked part time were more productive! They know they have to get things done. Why are we so obsessed with a 5-day working week? Why not 4 and get more people into work? We have such a fear of a societal re-structuring. And now, although we have more economic growth, people’s leisure time has decreased, and with phones and laptops you can be expected to work all the time…Yet there are more and more opportunities for women. It is incredible how much has changed, if you think that just before I came to Trinity Hall it was all men!

Do you think we are losing focus on Fairtrade and workers’ rights?

We should not have to pick between Fairtrade and organic and vegan. We underestimate how much companies listen to what customers want: we can ask them to produce their products ethically and must never feel shy to do so and reward those who do the right thing and congratulate them.

We should also push on the fashion industry. We did struggle with Fairtrade cotton as the fashion industry is so fast paced – it is very hard to get them to respond. But how can you be paying the workers well if you are only paying £10 for a pair of jeans?

Though it does take a long time to push for social change, we can see how so much change can be achieved! Look at veganism: 10 years ago you wouldn’t be able to get a vegan meal so easily!

Tell us about the organisation you are CEO of now, International Alert.

I’ve always felt that the three big issues are poverty, conflict and climate change. The three are interconnected – conflict keeps people poor and climate is the exacerbating factor. We work with communities to bring people together across different sides of conflict, for example refugees from the Syrian civil war: when you meet other people you immediately find that there is more that connects than divides you. When they first enter the room everyone blames everyone, but by the end they are working together for social activism, etc. However, it needs to be taken to a whole other scale – conflict is rising and yet there is no proper adequate response to it. Strangely there isn’t a peace movement the way there was in earlier times. What can we do to raise awareness and what can we all do to help build peace? With Fairtrade we landed on something that everyone could do, but we haven’t found that with peace-keeping. You can email your MP and Jeremy Hunt etc. But we all must help to build a society of love and compassion against the competitiveness and aggression. Respect others and slow down.

Do you have any advice for students hoping to go into international development?

It is annoying, but the best way is to start working as a volunteer for organisations. I spent many a happy hour stuffing envelopes!

I also always believe that you must keep a work-life balance – keep work in perspective and have fun at it! You should enjoy it. If you do you keep up your stamina.

Any final thoughts and reflections?

What is that vision we want of internationalism in the future? How can we build a future that tackles inequality? At the moment we are hearing and seeing the voices of anger, but we need to put forward another vision of a more fair and peaceful world.


I hope you enjoyed reading Harriet’s thoughts on life in international development. If you would like to hear the whole interview please email us and we can send it to you.

Also, for more information on the Fashion Industry and its effect on the environment, I really recommend you watch The True Cost: https://truecostmovie.com/ 

Thank you and let us know if you would like to write a Grad Talk of your own with a graduate you admire.

Grad Talk with Elizabeth Day

Bea Carpenter 

To me, Elizabeth Day was an obvious choice for someone to interview for Grad Talk. For those of you yet to discover her she is a best selling author and journalist currently writing a weekly column for the You magazine in the Mail on Sunday and is the host of the very popular “How to fail” podcast. She is releasing a book of the same name “part memoir, part manifesto”, all about learning from our mistakes, that comes out very shortly.

Before all of this success she graduated from Queens College Cambridge with a double first in History. At the end of Lent term, on International Women’s Day no less, I was lucky enough to chat to Elizabeth over the phone and ask her a few questions on life after Cambridge and how she felt her time here prepared her for the real world. Although we veered off track slightly during our conversation, I managed to ask a few of the questions I prepared so I hope you enjoy reading Elizabeth’s answers and hearing her advice.


B: When you were at University were you still able to enjoy writing and use it as a creative outlet or did you ever become bored of it?

E: I’ve never in my life been bored of writing, which is a really lovely thing given that’s how I make my living. It’s interesting, because I didn’t actually do that much creative writing but I did an enormous amount of journalism; I was a section editor on Varsity, I edited my college magazine (a satirical magazine) and I was the JCR communications officer that involved doing a quarterly newsletter. I did try to write a really terrible play, which quite rightly got absolutely nowhere.

Elizabeth remarked that she didn’t write novels because in her head it felt like a “craft and a skill that I had to learn” and she didn’t feel ready to do so. This led us to discuss how odd it is that writing is best learnt by doing, yet so often people are too scared to start. Elizabeth believes “ 95% of people have a novel in them, but very few people can sit down and write it”. One of her tips for novel writing is “the most important thing is getting words on a page” and that it can always be edited!

B: Did you feel the pressure of perfectionism when at University?

E: I massively felt it. I did come from an all Girls school and the cult of perfectionism was very strong there as well. I was an internal perfectionist: I felt I got rewarded when I got good grades and that became a sort of inner loop in my head. But I also think Cambridge is an incredibly stimulating environment in the right way because there are so many people thinking in different ways and you are actually encouraged to think differently so I found it a bit of release after school, being stuck so rigidly to a curriculum. Where I found it really difficult was revision, it was like an arms race for revision hours. It becomes its own hot house!

Elizabeth went on to say she felt 4 hours of revision a day was the optimum for her. This was hugely reassuring to hear after having seen people trapped in the library for so much of last year’s Easter term and dreading the prospect of it. It also just reminded me that we all learn in different ways so trying to compare ourselves is pointless.

B: Perhaps because everyone here has hyper-achieved, they need to find another level of competition?

E: Yes and I realised quite quickly that I couldn’t do everything whereas at school I did lots of different extra curriculars. So I focused on the thing I really loved which was writing. If people are brilliant at everything across the board there is a danger that they then get a bit lost in adult life because in adult life the reality is you can’t be good at everything all the time!

(We then bonded over the fact that we both play the trumpet and noted the lack of female trumpet players so I just wanted to flag it up as a plea for more women to learn brass!)

E: Something I would give as a piece of advice, is sometimes at Cambridge it felt as if I was not one of the best and brightest of my generation but actually life is reassuringly long and it might just be you are not in that patch of life where you are at your most fulfilled and that will come to you in your 20’s or 30’s or 40’s!

B: When you had just graduated from University did you experience that limbo as so many graduates do?

E: I was approaching that sense of limbo in my final term of second year. [After graduation] I thought to myself I would do a postgrad journalism training course or go onto work in the local paper but then a friend dragged me to a careers fair. The first man I saw was the deputy editor of the Londoner’s diary on the Evening Standard and it was completely random that he was there. He said to come in for some work experience so I went in for a week in summer, by the end of [it] I had a full time job there. I couldn’t believe it. I went straight into that job after graduating and I knew how lucky I was. The reason I can relate to the feeling of limbo is that Max Hastings, the editor who had given me the job, left a few months after I had arrived and it went through quite a chaotic time. I started to feel like I was stagnating slightly and I didn’t know how to get on to the next thing and I found that a really tricky period of my life. Similarly I felt like everyone else had it sorted, but they didn’t. It was just the impression I was torturing myself with. The great thing about being at that stage of life is you can take gambles, because you don’t have dependence. So I was able to leave that job on the idea of getting something else.

Another piece of advice from Elizabeth concerning journalism is that you can genuinely learn on the job, so to go for it.

B: I wanted to ask how has writing “How to fail” compared to writing novels and your work as a journalist?

E: I’ve always dreamt of being a novelist [but] I’ve loved writing How To Fail in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I think the reasons are twofold; one is that I’ve now been a journalist for 18 years and there is a confidence that comes from just having done something a lot and with this particular book I was surprised to find that I had so much I wanted to say and it came to me quite naturally. I loved the process. [In journalism] there is always a word count and an editor who wants a certain thing from me. With How to Fail I could write it exactly how I wanted it to be and I found it so liberating. With a novel you have to invent an entire world, but with How To Fail the groundwork was already there because it was my lived experience. The other thing, a practical thing, [with a tight deadline] I went to LA for a month, said no to all other journalism and wrote everyday in the sunshine and it was such a happy period of my life, getting this stuff of my chest and a tan at the same time…

B: As it’s International Women’s day and this is for Girl Talk, I wondered what your experiences have been of gender discrimination in Publishing and Journalism?

E: Publishing is incredibly female dominated and I love it and I work with amazing, strong and extremely kind and clever women. It has been a joy from beginning to end. I’ve had the same editor for every single book, she’s called Helen and she is amazing and the way she expresses herself is so respectful towards me and my writing which is not the case with journalism. The only place [sexism] has made itself felt is in the jacket choice for book covers and historically a lot of female authors have been marketed a certain way. A man would write about family and it would be called ‘a state of the nation novel’ and a woman would do it and it would be called a ‘domestic drama’.

In terms of Journalism, I would have said the same thing until the #metoo movement. I had gone into journalism at the stage where I still felt very grateful for being allowed into this predominantly male space, I didn’t feel I deserved to be there. I was constantly saying yes to things. I now realize I should have been questioning the entire system and not afraid to claim my own space. A lot of things I was asked to write about were “Women’s interests” as it was at the time when editors were desperate to get more women reading papers. It’s been wonderful to see how journalism has adapted and become so much less binary and I honestly think it’s because of a generation of younger women who are calling it out. I needed that to happen to understand my own history.

B: Finally, what are the three most valuable takeaways from your Uni experience (and life in general) and what advice would you give to people at Cambridge now?

E: The first advice I would give is know there is more than one way of looking at something. You might think that something has happened that is really bad and you’re failing at, but I promise you that there is another way of looking at it which makes those difficult moments into opportunities.

My second piece of advice is don’t feel you have to do everything at Cambridge. It is completely fine just to do your degree. You are enough doing that. You don’t have to be everything to everyone or do everything at once.

And my third piece of advice, I was about to say something that made me sound 85… but appreciate the extraordinary opportunity you have being at Cambridge and try and stop yourself at various moments and breathe it in.

B: Thank you so much! It’s been so lovely to talk to you.

E: Pleasure, thank you for thinking of me!


I immensely enjoyed chatting to Elizabeth and am so grateful to her for giving up her time to do so. A particularly lovely thing about our conversation was that she continually expressed how grateful she was for her time at Cambridge for the friends she made there and the opportunities it provided. So much so that she pays tribute to Cambridge in her novels with little “winks” to people and as a mark of appreciation to it.

So often we talk about our university lives with a negative rhetoric so hearing someone looking back with such fond memories was a well-needed reminder to truly embrace the wonders it has to offer.

She did not in anyway ask me to promote it but for your own enjoyment I hugely recommend that you pre-order her book How to Fail and have a listen to the podcast to help keep you keep grounded over Easter term!

Link to Pre-order: https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008327323/how-to-fail/

 

End of term reflection

Cambridge Girl Talk committee 

As a committee, we have become accustomed to taking some time to write some short contemplations at the end of each term, thinking about how we feel at the end of Cambridge and what we have noticed and learnt.


Bea

Already term feels like a million miles away from me as I sit at home surrounded by all things familiar. Going home is always an odd experience as whilst I feel completely comfortable and safe, it’s not as easy to slot into life as it once was. I’ve found it tricky being surrounded by people all of the time, learning to share my time with others and I can feel myself craving my independence again while simultaneously dreading the reality of next term full of revision and exams. Now I’ve been back for a little while, I’ve figured out a couple of ways to establish some of my own space and thought I’d share something that’s really making a difference for me.

As a challenge for lent I’ve taken up doing yoga everyday and yes I know it’s a bit cliché but it’s allowed me to have some time completely to myself each day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. I’ve not been that strict with it as I feel that defeats the purpose, but instead am actively making an effort to find time for it as much as possible. It’s keeping me grounded and is something I can continue to do in term to try and make that tricky transition more seamless. If you would like to join me I would hugely recommend Cat Meffan’s youtube videos. I’ve been following her #yoganuary series and its fab, alternatively just you can just flow to your own rhythm, Namaste!

Blanca

Looking back on the last few months, I am filled with so much warmth and gratitude. Among other things, I celebrated my 21st birthday, joined by friends visiting from Dublin and some amazing Cambridge people. Moments, days and weekends like these reinforce again and again just how important friends are and the love and loyalty they bring to life. After a difficult Michaelmas term, I made an effort to go out less and relax more, enjoying theatre and films, as well as all of the amazing art and beauty in Cambridge. Being an MML student, I will be leaving this city and my friends in September for a year – it will be sad as well as exciting, but taking time to appreciate Cambridge and all it has to offer this term has helped to prepare for the goodbyes.

Adjusting to home life has been somewhat more trying this time, and I think it is precisely because I had been surrounding myself with so much Cambridge before coming home. Allowing myself to just spend time doing nothing can be tricky when accompanied by the persistent Cambridge habit of a need to be occupied and productive. It can also be hard to re-adjust to chatting with people who don’t have similar opinions to me, accustomed as I am to therapeutic rants with close like-minded friends at all hours. However, I am adjusting and I have been able to do this with time, as well as taking in the beautiful Irish countryside I live in through morning jogs and walks – in such a pressurising and individualistic world, it is more important than ever to just love each other and ourselves.

Anna

I don’t really know how I feel about how this term went and the thought of writing a summary of it daunted me. As usual it has disappeared in a blur marked by a few highs and lows that stick in my mind. Stumbling across this random selection of drawings in the back of different notebooks I had forgotten I carried with me was strangely reassuring. They are proof of time spent simply stopping to think and reflect, not in order to be productive or meet someone else’s expectations. They remind me of moments where I was doing something with no ultimate goal or outcome in mind. Finding these scraps – which bring back memories I would have otherwise forgotten of me still being me despite external pressures – makes me hopeful that I can make time for more of these small acts next term.

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Alicia

This term was very full. Full of events (three from Girl Talk!), changes and excitement. Eight weeks whizzed by but also dragged on. As much as I tried to engage myself with the architecture of 14th century Cairo or Hegel’s theory on art, the biggest thing I learnt this term was definitely about resilience. In the past eight weeks I was dealing with chronic pain, the end of a relationship, a bit of disappointment and a lot of essay crises. Overall, I’m a very lucky and privileged person and none of these things were ever life-changing or terrible, and I’m grateful for that. However, I’m also grateful that the spot of a tough time I did go through has allowed me to understand resilience and see that I actually have quite a lot of it.

I don’t know about anyone else, but at my school resilience was this ‘buzzword’, empty of any real meaning. Throughout this term however I’ve begun to understand it a bit more, or at least what it means to me. What resilience means to me now is being able to recognise that as bad as things feel, eating super noodles with friends late at night will always make me feel better, and the worst-case scenario I had imagined is often not that bad. I learnt that I’m pretty good at taking care of myself and staying positive, and that I have great supportive friends who help me do that. This term has been very educational! Though perhaps not in the way my DoS had hoped…

Julia

Whenever I think back on term, I find it hard to map all the time that has gone past. I have written about this before, in previous Girl Talk reflections – sometimes mapping time can be done by keeping little tokens from places I have visited, sometimes it is through music, sometimes it is through drawing little doodles in my notebook.

This time, I’m looking back on term and I find the little pieces of text and verse I have written down. There is one from somewhere at the beginning, about the snow. The snow which drifted down in the darkness, whilst I sat in the library. It settled for a moment and when I stepped outside to take a look, it had already vanished in little rivers, down the pavement, soaking into the grass.

There is some verse about the pink and white which lay itself over the sky around the middle of term, when I was walking to the library in the morning. I took my watercolours out apparently, later that afternoon I suppose, and mixed those colours on to the page. Then there was all the rain and wind which arrived towards the end, and I wrote whilst sitting in a café by the window, hearing the force of the water against the glass next to my ear.

I find that all this writing feels quite removed from what was actually happening in my day to day life – I don’t really tend to describe who I was with, what I was doing but rather, what was going on around me. And I find that remembering these little scenes I was set in, whether it was a sudden flock of birds flying out from behind Queens as the sun was setting, or a punt I watched pass beneath me as I walked over a bridge in the rain, or even the little details of flowers I found in the greenhouses of the botanical gardens, allow me to remember, too, the thoughts I had then and the emotions I brought with me to that place.

Featured image by Berthe Morisot, source: antiquesandthearts

Highlights from our cake and create event

Blanca Schofield-Legorburo 

On the 4th of March at 5.30pm we gathered in the Locker Café for some cake-ing and creating. Accompanied by delicious brownies and vegan tiffin, our guests took some time out of their week 7 flurries with two hours of creative serenity. Read on to see some of the art produced in our four stations: collage, colouring, collaboration and haikus.


Collage 

As ever, this proved our most popular initiative: through the course of the evening we all ended up gathering in the collage corner, ripping up pages from magazines and newspapers and re-writing our own stories, moods and images.

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Colouring 

We provided pictures of women who inspire us along with some colouring pencils; our guests then coloured in these powerful images.


Collaboration

I set up this station, spending an hour coming up with some different ideas for artistic consequences and expression. I just wanted to see what people had to say when prompted with some fun and unexpected titles…

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Haikus 

Finally, our guests had an opportunity for some poetic expression; our sub-editor Julia provided some beautiful haikus and image poetry written by female poets and asked for some responses in poetic form.

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Thank you to everyone who came and got involved in this creative cake venture! We hope you enjoyed taking some peaceful time out, whether through creating or simply reading this contemplative summary. As always, let us know if you would like to get involved in our blog by emailing us – we would love to see your own art too!

Spotlight artist: Sara Pocher

Read on to hear from our second spotlight artist, Cambridge-based Sara Pocher:


1- In case our readers don’t have/follow us on Instagram, could you please give a little introduction of who you are and what you’re up to at the minute?

Hi, I’m Sara and I’m a second-year student of Chinese at Cambridge. I have been drawing since I was a kid but have only recently started to publish my work on social media and in magazines. I am currently mainly working with illustration and collage, often combining images and words to explore how each can complement the meaning of the other and have just started to experiment with digital drawing.

2- How would you describe your art?

I would describe a lot of my work as dreamlike and slightly surreal.

3- What drives you to create? What or who inspires you?

I take a lot of inspiration from my personal experiences and my feelings. Art and creative expression represent a therapeutic outlet through which I try to make sense of my surroundings: the physical act of creating a piece of work helps me control the sometimes-overwhelming tide of thoughts rushing through my brain, bringing a sort of order and structure. I am particularly drawn to questions of identity and like to explore how the interaction with the outside world can alter the perception I have of myself and others. I often incorporate elements from my daily life into my work, such as books or movies that I find particularly inspiring, discussions I have with friends, my thoughts and dreams.

4- Do you have a few stellar Instagram accounts you would recommend?

Sha’an D’Anthes (@furrylittlepeach on Instagram) is an Australian illustrator I find really inspiring, I love how playful and incredibly creative her work is! Other artists I really like are @phoebewahl, @daralnaimart and @cafeinacoli.

5- Do you feel your art has a trajectory and do you think it needs one?

As I practice more and more, I feel like I’m getting closer to develop my personal style and I’m starting to think about concrete ways in which I could implement my art into my future career (whatever that might be). Right now, my artistic practice is deeply connected with intimate and personal topics, but I’m constantly learning and growing, both as an artist and as an individual, so I’m curious to see how my art will evolve and mature with me. For the time being I’m trying to keep an open mind and experiment with different creative mediums and outlets as much as I can.

6- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given to do with your art?

Don’t comply to other people’s expectations and try to follow your own intuition as much as possible. What I find most inspiring in a piece of art is its ability to convey an individual’s personality and their own interpretation of the world, so rather than doing what everyone else thinks you should be doing, let your work reveal your own voice! Also, and this is something that I constantly try to keep in mind: creativity is a never-ending journey, so have fun with it!

 

Make sure to follow this incredible artist on Instagram at @_nutmeg98_ !

What does it mean to be a feminist? – written by someone who has changed her mind.

Harriet Pinto 

For a movement that concerns every single person on the planet, it is surprising that nobody seems to have really agreed on what it means to be a feminist. I have always noticed how often debates about feminist ideas devolve into disagreements about the movement’s very definition. Is it about equality, or fairness? Do they mean the same thing? Are men welcome in the discussion? What does ‘empowerment’ actually mean? Finally, and perhaps the most frequent: can you be a feminist and still do X, Y or Z? My response has always been to try to simplify the definition of ‘feminist’- if it is a simple, uncomplicated ideological belief, then everyone can uncontroversially call themselves feminists if they hold that belief, even if they aren’t going to become activists or outspoken critics of the patriarchy.

For this reason, I have always called myself a feminist, and have defined this as simply holding the ideological belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. I have thrown this catch-all definition at boys who have told me they are not feminists because they believe in ‘equality’ and so have no need of a concept which ‘only advances women’s rights’, and girls who have worried that particular actions weren’t feminist enough, or even contradicted their feminist beliefs. I wanted ‘feminist’ and ‘sexist’ to be mutually exclusive terms, because it made everything so much simpler.

But recently, I have changed my mind. I attended a debate at the Cambridge Union about whether or not Margaret Thatcher was a feminist, and on going in, I voted ‘yes’ in the pre-vote without any hesitation. Thatcher believed she should have as good a chance as any qualified man to be Prime Minister, therefore, surely, she was a feminist. Maybe her policies weren’t overtly or explicitly feminist, maybe she never used that word to describe herself, but she believed in equality, so she must have been a feminist. But by the time I left the chamber at the end of the debate, I had been swayed in my opinion.

Margaret Thatcher may well have believed in equality of the sexes, yes, but her policies, as I learned, affected women disproportionately and almost completely disregarded the disadvantages they already faced in society at the time. She was dismissive of the issue of expensive childcare which often prohibited women from working full time, advising them to find a relative who would be able to watch their children whilst they worked, and remained stubbornly oblivious to how impossible this was for many. She experienced first hand the male-dominated world of Westminster yet was silent about ways to make it more accessible, promoting only one woman into her cabinet during her time in office. She heavily implied a moral obligation on women to remain at home, unemployed, whilst their children grew up, and many of her economic policies have been shown to have affected women living in poverty far more than their male counterparts, because they failed to take into account the level of financial dependency these women frequently experienced.

A belief in equality is obviously a necessary part of being a feminist. This is why the argument in defence of Thatcher, claiming that she must have been a feminist because she inspired many women, will not work. She demonstrated that women may rise to the highest spheres of power in this country, and that was hugely significant and inspiring to women. But it would have been perfectly possible for a fiercely individualistic woman who did not believe in equality to do this, and so the simple fact that a woman emboldens others cannot be proof of her feminism.

Margaret Thatcher presumably did believe in equality of the sexes. But despite the necessity of such a belief to feminism, it becomes meaningless when the believer has the opportunity to act on it, and chooses not to. The level of opportunity people have to act on their belief depends on how much power they have, and as prime minister, Thatcher arguably had more opportunity than any other person to make significant changes to the lives of women while she was in office. Her failure to do so means that her policies did not reflect her beliefs, and is therefore incompatible with the idea that she was a feminist.

This is why men and women in power who identify as feminists cannot escape from their responsibility to advocate and advance women’s rights and issues. A person working for minimum wage who has not had the opportunity to read feminist literature, who has no time to attend marches and protests, and who does not know how to challenge gender norms effectively, is still a feminist even if all they have is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. But for someone who has had a high-quality education, who has the social and economic opportunity to effect change, or who has legitimate political power, this is not enough.

These people have an obligation to look beyond surface level equality and try to understand how entrenched patriarchal structures mean that women are affected by certain policies in different, perhaps not immediately obvious, ways and to different extents based on factors such as race, sexual orientation and class. They have an obligation to see that just because they have not experienced disadvantage related to a particular issue, this does not mean that it is not a legitimate feminist concern. Margaret Thatcher was one of these people, and she did not do any of these things.

Inspiring others is not proof of feminism, and a feminist woman does not even have to inspire any other women. I don’t think she has to look a certain way, and I don’t think she has to either challenge or uphold any exterior model of a ‘good’ feminist. But I do think that she has to make use of opportunities which she has to act on her feminist beliefs, even whilst acknowledging that not all feminists have such opportunities. If someone does not practice what they preach when given the chance, their sermon ultimately has no significance.

Featured image source: picswe.com