My week in doodles

Julia Lasica 

Following on from Blanca’s doodles last week, I thought I would document this week with drawings, too. Like any week in Cambridge, it was filled with lots of varying ups and downs, exhaustion and also the most fun I’ve had in quite a while – days here are so oddly spaced out, hardly seeming to begin before the sky starts to darken and the library lights click on, signalling that yet another little seventh of yet another week in Cambridge is drawing to a close. It does make me feel slightly nervous, how structured each day is, and that when I arrive at its end, it seems I have filled in a box, which carries me closer to the end of term – but sketching for five minutes slowed this down and allowed me to think about marks on a page other than the letters in the essay I was writing. On Monday, I stretched the definition a little, and included just some grass I had picked up and decided to press in a notebook.

None of the drawings are accurate depictions of all the things which happened in my day and flowers did not really stand tall and bright around me as I worked away in the library. But I found that adding small twists like the thin layers of light pink and blue brought my days a little bit of magic which perhaps they were lacking, objectively. Week Four at Cambridge wasn’t what I wished it had been, in terms of how long I spent outside the library at concerts, or at talks, or any of the other events everyone always seems to be going to and talking about afterwards. But there were more than enough moments of excitement which stretched through my days, and now allow these drops of happiness in pink and blue to make their way into my drawings.

 

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Thinking Pink

Bea Carpenter

Unless you lead a Facebook-free life then you probably won’t have failed to notice that this week in Cambridge it is Pink Week! It came to Cambridge in 2014 and entails a week of both fundraising and events with the overall aim of raising awareness of breast cancer. It begins with a ball and is followed by a series of events from exercise classes to formals. The week is also about education: the committee aim not only to de-stigmatize the often ‘taboo’ topic but also to inform women (and men!) at our university of how to check for any abnormalities, so as to improve early detection rates and prevent unnecessary scares or anxiety.

I am not in the amazing team behind pink week this year, but I did attend the panel discussion they organised on Monday evening at the Union. It was a conversation chaired by Sofia Weiss between four incredible women who work in various fields concerning breast cancer, from the charity aspect to a breast cancer surgeon. Half of the panel had also experienced breast cancer including blogger and motivational speaker Heidi Loughlin, author of ‘Storminatitcup’, who has stage four inflammatory cancer and Liz O’Riordan, a breast surgeon who was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer in 2015 and recently finished treatment for a local relapse. The conversation shared was insightful and informed, prompted by excellent questions from Sofia Weiss and the audience members.

Something that really made me think was the discussion of “Pink publicity” and the pink label we have given breast cancer. It reminded me just how important the way we paint a topic in society really is. Given that men get breast cancer too, pink could be seen as exclusionary in its traditional gender role. However, we are slowly erasing these gender binaries and, moreover, breast cancer is broadly speaking a woman’s issue, as though men can develop it and should be aware of the warning signs, for the 54,800 cases seen in woman each year in the UK only 390 men are diagnosed (Cancer Research Uk statistics). Another issue with pink is that it is often seen as a somewhat innocent, sweet and happy colour, thus begging the question: does pink branding trivialize the important issue at hand?

The panel had plenty of thoughts on this topic. Heidi remarked “pink stinks” and confessed to hating the colour, but still recognized the value it has in spreading awareness of breast cancer and how various retail brands can use it as a talking point or a way to raise money for research. The danger seems to be that pink is often abused. The panel mentioned inappropriate products they’d seen in pink, such as “pink ghds”, when people with cancer so often lose their hair due to chemotherapy, or pink gin when alcohol can’t be drunk by those undergoing treatment and is a risk factor of cancer to begin with. These seemingly commendable charitable products can come across as distasteful and insensitive. There is also the danger of pink being misused in advertising and retail in the absence of any fundraising or awareness, with the colour simply being commodified.

A representative from Breast Cancer Now spoke about the charity’s recent efforts to ensure their branding was appropriate for their audience, introducing grey into their logo for example, but that pink was still used because it had become a sort of symbol. It is a colour we all associate with breast cancer, largely thanks to Estee Lauders’ pink ribbon campaign that began in 1992 following her own experience with breast cancer, with their commitment to helping create a “breast cancer free world” doing wonders.

Although clearly problematic, pink can also be empowering for those with or who have been through breast cancer. It can be worn in solidarity by other members of the public and is often a way to inject a little joy into a painful journey for many.

Pink week is an example of the power of pink. It strikes a perfect balance between putting on unique and fun events to attract attention and interest while simultaneously providing resources on education and the support systems available, accompanied by enormous charitable efforts.

Another buzzword of the panel was ‘battle’, something we often use to describe people’s journeys with cancer. For some survivors it can be an empowering self-identification to refer to themselves as ‘warriors’ as it signals their strength and acts as a mark of what they’ve been through. But for women like Heidi who has an incurable form of breast cancer, labeling it as a ‘fight’ makes her feel she has been put, without choice, into a category of ‘losers’ along with the other women who die because of their breast cancer. Although it can have the greatest intentions, referring to someone who has been through cancer as a ‘fighter’ or ‘warrior’ is a slippery slope and potentially results in that person becoming defined by their cancer.

The panel discussed a plethora of other issues including the controversial topic of screening lead by Dr Rosalind Given-Wilson a consultant at St.Georges hospital and a discussion on the lack of desperately needed post-chemotherapy mental health support in the healthcare system.

Yet the main thing I took away from this panel was just how important it is to consider the way we discuss cancer and display our support for those diagnosed. We must be careful not to tiptoe around it, but also ensure we are sensitive, un-patronising and aware of the impact our words and actions can have and not underestimate the power of pink.

If you would like to also use pink wisely and support Cambridge Pink Week you can! Their own merchandise is available to purchase, linked below and check out the rest of their website for more information on what they do and why.

Pink week stash – https://www.cambridgepinkweek.com/pink-week-ball/stash/

Pink week website – https://www.cambridgepinkweek.com/

Alternatively you can support incredible charities funding vital research and education in all sorts of ways, a few are linked below.

CoppaFeel – https://coppafeel.org/

Breast Cancer now – https://breastcancernow.org/

Breast cancer care – https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/

 A small contribution I made last year was  purchasing a tee shirt from the incredible Girl vs Cancer tit-tee shop. Mine is adorned with embroidered bees but they have some great designs worth checking out and other products like bags, jumpers etc. plus 25% of all profits go to their partner charities. It was set up by Lauren Mahon who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was under the age of 30 and aims to “open a dialogue on this sensitive subject” and stop “scaremongering” in the media from putting people off getting their symptoms checked. All round a great venture to support.

GirlvsCancer – https://girlvscancer.co.uk/shop/

Featured image source: Pacing Around the World Photography

My week in doodles

Blanca Schofield-Legorburo 

When I was younger I would often doodle absent-mindedly, filling pages of workbooks and diaries and spending hours on different collages and flowers or decorated calligraphy, – an eclectic mix! Yet as is too often the case with getting older and feeling the pressure to tick all of the relevant boxes, to fill our time “productively”, these doodle-filled moments were cast aside.

Happily, though, I am learning to ignore that nagging feeling that bothers me whenever I take some time to myself, and have slowly but surely re-activated my doodling self. This new-found enthusiasm was spurred on by our collage nights last term, and then also with the idea given to me by Alice Tyrrell, playwright extraordinaire and creator of the Instagram account @alicedrawsdaily. When I surprised her with the request for a fun fact while on radio, Alice told me about her idea of drawing something every day of 2018 and how she had followed through with it; I felt really inspired to start this myself, as I have always thought of keeping a diary for moments, ideas or moods, or even for the vivid dreams that sometimes startle me in the night.

January 2019 has come to an end and I am really happy to report that I have kept up my daily doodles for the whole month! They are not sophisticated and coloured, nor are they works of extreme prowess or attention, but they do capture something of the days they represent and have helped me reconnect with the younger, more relaxed, day-dreaming me.

Thus, here is my Cambridge week 2 in doodles:

Thursday

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Friday

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Saturday

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Sunday

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Monday

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Tuesday

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Wednesday

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So there it is! My week 2 with rough, scrawled characters and figures – my week 2 in beloved doodles!

Cover image: my drawing for the last day of January 2019 – first day of week 3

Thoughts on the Cambridge Girl Talk art exhibition

Julia Lasica

On the evening of Friday the 25th of January 2019, Girl Talk celebrated the opening of its first ever exhibition – a special thank you is due to Alicia Lethbridge, one of our events co-ordinators, for her tireless work and enthusiasm on this incredibly special project!

A selection of submissions on the theme of ‘Taking Back the Narrative’ were displayed around the lower level of Murray Edwards bar, with pieces ranging in their media from clay to kohl and lip liner. Across the pieces, the most obvious and immediate focus was on the female body and the way in which it is perceived. Pink Squire-Lindsay’s juxtaposition between her drawings of the female nude and a letter from Clare College’s Accommodation Manager explaining that they had removed the pictures from the walls of her bedroom because they were ‘offensive’, created a very striking lead on the theme which both Kate Towsey in her piece ‘Bodily Embroidery’ and Anna Seale in her ‘Various States of Undress’ sketch tackled. Both Towsey and Seale used the commonplace items women handle every day, underwear and makeup, with which they may have a complicated relationship, and usurped them to create their individual, subversive pieces.

This motif stretched across to the sole sculpture in the exhibition, Amber Li’s ‘Declining Nude.’ Surrounded by the mirrors on a section of the bar’s walls, the female figure was refracted from various angles, highlighting the playful and adventurous tone it struck in comparison to the inert passiveness of the classical female nude, which Li referred to in her caption. This sculpture was also a portal through which the exhibition linked on to the college’s New Hall Art Collection, widely reputed as one of the world’s largest and most significant accumulations of female art. With her anonymous, circlet face looking directly up at the Guerrilla Girls’ print ‘Do Women have to be Naked to get into the Met. Museum’ housed just a floor above, Li’s nude sculpture engaged in the question posed by the 1989 piece from her own twenty-first century, dynamic and hopeful perspective.

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Watercolour of Sculpture by Amber Li 

Communication between the surrounding art and the pieces in the exhibition had been something Alicia and the rest of us on the committee had really wanted. As the viewers wandered around the space, ascending and descending the stairs between the two collections of art, they mirrored with their movements the ways in which the questions, themes and ideas raised in one section were grappled with in the other. The expressive way in which emotion pours over the subject of Aleah Chaplin’s ‘The Tempest’, situated in the permanent collection, was found in more subtle tones in the pensive, deep colours of Isabelle Weir’s ‘The Green Velvet Coat’, one of the first pieces to greet the viewer in the exhibition.

Isobel Richards’ ‘Narrative Thread’, Aleydis Nissen’s ‘DELIGHT’, Claire Qin Yi Whiting’s ‘Untitled’ and Sara Pocher’s ‘Freedom To Be’ emphasised this part of the exhibition’s focus, too. Their pieces demonstrated how art could be an outlet for female narrative and a form for the confessional female voice to be heard, echoing in variations what Tracey Emin had expressed fifteen years earlier in her ruminations on the impact of her tattoos on her body, found in a print in the New Hall Collection.

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Narrative Thread by Isobel Richards

The transformation of lived experience into objects or symbols, something which Emin mused upon in this print, manifested itself in a slightly different light in both Madeleine Pulman-Jones’s Petersburg Portraits, Cathy MacTaggart’s hand stitched sampler titled ‘Migrant Worker Woman’ and our artist-in-resident’s, Anna Curzon Price, watercolours. Correlating with the wider theme of how female experience can be recorded and how exactly it could be quantified, which was present amongst the exhibition work, these pieces cemented the role of material objects in this process, whether it was the rubber gloves depicted in both Curzon Price and MacTaggart’s work or the cutlery lying beside fish and croissants in Pulman-Jones’s sketches.

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Migrant Worker Woman by Cathy MacTaggart

The common streams of thoughts and concerns which were passed along and caught in between the permanent New Hall art collection and the pieces in our exhibition showed how prevalent and universal our female experience and expression can be, at times. Walking around the exhibition and then passing on to the permanent collection, I was struck by the common themes which flowed from work to work, and the motifs I found myself being moved by again and again. Around a week earlier, the Girl Talk committee had been to a talk given by the creators of the White Pube, Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad. Both of these women talked about the importance of how the individual views and experiences art from their own unique perspective, with all their thoughts and histories crowding around them as they encountered pieces displayed before them. Thinking about their words, I was grateful that we had had the opportunity to create a space like this and to allow our thoughts and ideas to mingle with those female artists who had come before us – for really, in many ways, they were not that different after all.

Featured image by artist in residence Anna Curzon Price 

Why #januhairy isn’t all that smooth

Jess Molyneux

It was as if the stars had aligned earlier this month, when I first heard about #januhairy: a combination of my two favourite things, feminism and wordplay, it was yet another way for us women to stick it to the patriarchy.

I was initially impressed with the pun, as well as the concept and movement behind it (women ditching the razor for this month and baring natural armpits and fluffy legs on Instagram.) However, after thinking about it and discussing it a little more with some friends, made me realise that this movement, although so empowering on the surface, may need a little interrogation if it is going to move forward in the most positive direction possible.

Firstly, I’ll be showing solidarity in smoothness, which makes me feel a little guilty.

I have amazing respect for all the women baring the hair right now, and I’m thankful that so many girls and boys will be seeing at least some of our bodies in their natural state. But I’m also in awe of those women whose reason for defying this norm is because it’s what they want to do with their bodies. Of course, those posts which stick two-fingers up at the expectation for women to be silky smooth all over, those posts which say ‘I think I’m more beautiful like this and society needs to get its head around that’ are inspirational. But I’m not quite there yet.

The problem with the beauty standard of shaven armpits, legs, and everything else, isn’t that anyone – family, friends, current or prospective partners – forces women to remove their hair. What’s wrong, exhausting and anxiety-inducing, is that the standard is so pervasive that it becomes internalised. On billboards, on Instagram, on the women in the media who we think are beautiful, we just don’t see hair. It’s so normalised that we don’t think twice, after reaching a certain age, about the necessity of repeatedly, routinely pruning ourselves.

The common, pseudo-feminist (as I see it) justification is ‘I do it for me’. Meaning, I shave so that I feel beautiful, not because I think I need to for someone else. But isn’t it far more problematic that you only feel beautiful even to yourself when have you seen, felt or know that you are smooth all over? Isn’t it problematic that you feel beautiful only after having nipped yourself with a razor, or sat shivering on the floor of the shower for ten minutes, or gritted your teeth through a wax? And that you’ll have to do it all over again in a few days’ or weeks’ time? To make it worse, this ‘gain’ will run out in a few days at worst, and a few weeks at best.

We shouldn’t feel like bad feminists when we shave, and there are plenty of women who say that the choice to do so is just as valid and empowering as the choice not to.

But I can’t agree – or at least I think writing it off, even reclaiming it, as ‘our choice’ isn’t particularly helpful for the deeper issues at stake. I don’t think women have a choice, at least not a simple and easy one, when they would have to redefine what makes them feel beautiful before being made happy by that choice, when the liberation we gain from defying the standard is tainted by a suppression of those instilled instincts which make us feel better about our bodies with glossy legs rather than furry ones.

Secondly, is having one month where we talk about the problem with hair – and a winter one, at that, where it’s less of an ever-present concern for women – enough? I do think, especially considering the ‘guilty feminism’ I’ve discussed, that baby steps might be best. Internalised standards aren’t going away anytime soon – we won’t change what this generation, instinctively, holds to be attractive. But little-by-little exposure – maybe we could add a month every year, or hope that lots of women will bear the hair all year round after this #januhairy induction – is a good way to start.

Lastly, and most importantly, is this a very white, Western feminist issue?

I think when we talk specifically about the hashtag, probably. It’s a campaign for female empowerment, but most women Instagramming are already pretty empowered. But when we look deeper, at the reasons women are rejecting this norm, the wider implications are important on two counts. First: the problem with body hair is a double standard between men and women (rather than anything inherent in the act of shaving). And flagging up anything which places different, more expensive, more time-consuming, and more socially exhausting pressures on one gender can be a useful tool for prompting thought and discourse around other, more serious and detrimental inequalities. Second: placing expectations on women, their bodies, their behaviours, shaming them when they fail or refuse to meet those expectations, is one form of the patriarchal control over women which, in the UK and across the globe, has much more sinister manifestations.

But we should also be sensitive to the fact that some women will be more privileged in the extent to which they can join the movement and feel empowered by it. I’ve already spoken about how hard I would find it to let everything grow – but what about women of different ethnicities, women with naturally darker, thicker, or just more hair? They already have to exert a lot more financial, physical, and mental energy, shaving more frequently, struggling to wax or get laser treatment, and could easily feel excluded by a movement which focuses on a small selection of ‘acceptably hairy’ women.

Eventually, I hope that with a positive reception, support, women like @themamabelle getting stuck in and Instagramming it, more women can join in the movement. These are the women we need to be seeing, thinking about, and bringing aboard as we move forward so that #januhairy and movements like it can have an awesome impact for all.

 

Featured image source: Instagram @themamabelle 

A summer in black and white

Alice Gilderdale 

During the cold winter holiday, two of my rolls of film were developed from the year of 2018.

Even though these photos are all black and white, they still remind me of the colours, smells and warmth of those long summer days.

 

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Waking in the morning with long hours stretching ahead of us, summer took on colours of its own. Colours which could not be captured through the lens of my camera, but which are hazily remembered – the colour of the early morning sky through my curtain, the colour of the rusty orange dress we dyed and hung out in the garden. These were colours which we bathed in, the light of summer’s energy, an energy which rejuvenated rather than enervated.

 

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Rather than its warped nature at University, time slipped and slowed down, with the hot sunshine on our arms and legs. I soon accepted that it was okay to stop and spend long days without moving, creating or producing something to show for them.

 

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Some days were spent travelling from place to place with backpacks on and bags full of foraged fruit. We would gorge ourselves on the ripe (or not-so-ripe) figs, blackberries, wild strawberries and plums which we found along the roads we walked. I filled my body with fruits bursting with sunshine.

 

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In the coldest moments of December, memories of summer have served as a reminder of these special moments. It’s easy to forget, in the midst of our busy lives, that we can give ourselves space to settle and take our time: we don’t need the validation of a holiday or of the hot sunshine.

 

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It took me some time to realise that all of these photos are missing something. They’re missing the faces, expressions and features of each person I’ve photographed. Perhaps it’s the secretive nature of the peace I found over summer, which has evaded my lens; or perhaps that is the nature of serene moments, they move in front of your eyes with a calm silence which doesn’t require any added expressions. Maybe it’s something we catch every day, something we see in our peripheral vision. Through my lens, these moments have become captured in the peaceful colours of black and white; however this hasn’t muted their tones, but captured the evasive impression of summer’s lazy, warm days.

 

Summarising our Women in Science event

Blanca Schofield-Legorburo

On the evening of the 18th January, Cambridge students gathered at a Robinson auditorium to hear from three amazing women in science: Patricia Fara, Patricia Lebre Alireza and Barbara Sahakian. Interviewing them were Bea Carpenter, co-director of Cambridge Girl Talk, and Roa Powell, co-founder of Cambridge Women in Science Society. All five women gave the audience so much for their time, with the guests giving honest accounts of their careers in science and personal reflections on their lives, prompted by poignant questions from Bea and Roa.

The evening began with Bea asking them to give a brief personal introduction. Though, as is inevitable, these took ten minutes each, there was no point at which the audience lost interest, as the biographies were extremely engaging.

Patricia Fara started with the important premise that she was going to give “two versions of her story”, i.e. that it is vital that we do not simply hear a list of successes as it can be discouraging in its dishonest, unrealistic nature. Thus she told us of her incredible career, starting with a Physics degree from Oxford, where she was just 1 of 8 women and over 200 men. She then went on to work in computing with her husband, but at the age of 40 decided on a sudden career change and decided to do a PhD in the History of Science. She is now a science historian academic and has written many books such as Lab of One’s Own: a history of science and suffragism. Yet the other side of this story is that her father being an immigrant brought many difficulties in their lives, she became bored of Physics at university, and was discriminated against in the very male-dominated department. She also suffered in a turbulent marriage for 20 years and became ill at the age of 40, which prompted her career change. Moreover, as Patricia pointed out, being a college employee, a sphere which is dominated by women, makes it difficult for her to get promotions. Thus, she gave us a realistic, and actually more inspiring picture of her life, with its ups and downs and a drive for passion.

Patricia Lebre Alireza also did not achieve her position as experimental quantum physicist easily in the slightest. Beginning by saying “I love what I do and I always wanted to be a scientist”, she went on to tell us about her young marriage to her Saudi Arabian husband, their move to Saudi Arabia and the impossibility of her doing her degree there. She had children at a young age and had to study online. Finally, after they moved to California when she was in her thirties, she managed to do her degree in physics and work part time, juggling it with her dedication to her children. Finally, in her fourties, she was accepted to do a PhD in physics at Cambridge and received it at 45. She said being a mother and homemaker made it much more difficult, but that she had a lot of support from her husband and Cambridge supervisors. Interestingly, she noted that being a minority was much more of a problem in the US than it was in the UK. Ultimately, she concluded that everyone needs support in their career!

Barbara also highlighted the importance of having a supportive partner. She is a psychiatrist and works on treatment for conditions such as OCD and depression, and also on government policy for mental health. She spoke of the inspiration given to her by her all-female school and university, spaces where a woman’s ability in any subject was never questioned. Her determination to help people drove her, even in her position as the only woman in labs or departments, and she is still passionate about finding new treatments.

Barbara even handed out a sheet with advice on it, and I caught up with the other two at the end to ask for their most vital pieces of advice:

  • Keep learning!
  • Have confidence in yourself! You will not get a job if you don’t apply for it.
  • Focus on achievements, not failures. Remember all the work you did to get where you are, don’t just thank luck for it.
  • Stay resilient and keep positive.
  • Follow your dreams and goals and work at what you love.
  • Try and make the future better.

They also spoke about how much better the environment is for women in science than it was 20 years ago, and how much it is improving each year. However, the point that they all collectively agreed on and stressed is the importance of cheap good childcare for women to be able to partake in STEM careers, or any career. A work-life balance and drive is vital too, as well as passion, but a woman cannot be made to feel guilty about having a desire to work and be at home and network and also spend time with her children. This is the question that we must answer and solve in our generation, as well as losing the taboo around women in maths and engineering and around men helping with homemaking and sacrificing some of their career.

Thank you to everyone involved and to everyone who came! It was certainly an inspiring and memorable evening.