Grad Talk: Life beyond the bubble with Leaf

This week on ‘Grad Talk’ we’re chatting to Leaf Arbuthnot, who graduated from Magdalene in 2014 with a degree in French and Italian. Now a feature writer for the Sunday Times, here she discusses her life as a journalist, the perks of internships and why it’s ok if you don’t land your dream job as soon as you graduate.

Interview by Kitty Grady

So, what do you do now?

I’m a feature writer for the Sunday Times. I write interviews mostly but also general features, book reviews and occasional news pieces. I do new poetry collection reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and have written a novel, which has just won the Pageturner Prize and will (touch wood) be published next year. I’m about to start a book review show on Talk Radio and I do news shows for them quite regularly, running through the day’s top trending stories.

… and how did you get there? 

I spent lots of my summers since I started at Cambridge interning in different newspapers and magazines to work out what sort of work environments I vibed with most. That was helpful in that it narrowed my options down – I realized I liked newspapers most of all, and wouldn’t thrive in monthly women’s magazines which have more languorous deadlines.

In terms of practical journalistic experience I did quite a bit at Cambridge – The Tab, the Cambridge Globalist, my own College’s magazine which I co-edited. I spent my year abroad at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and wrote art exhibition reviews for a paper there.

I guess I tried to study hard enough to maintain decent grades while at Cambridge, which was instrumental in helping me to win the Henry Fellowship in my final year. It’s a scholarship that supports students who want to do a year at Harvard or Yale. At Yale I did some teaching, a broad range of classes and worked on its newspapers – focusing more on economics and making podcasts. After Yale I interned at the Financial Times then got a job at the Sunday Times, where I’ve been since August 2015.

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Leaf’s desk at the Sunday Times: “Taming a conversation into a feature-length article is challenging, in the best way.”

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Grad Talk: Life beyond the bubble with Rhian

The spotlight of this week’s instalment of Grad Talk is on Rhian Williams, who graduated from Jesus in 2016 with a degree in French and Spanish. Uniting her love of food and writing, Rhian started a blog in her final year of Cambridge which she now continues to work on post-Uni. Here she tells us about life without a 9-5, her entrepreneurial aspirations and what she’s learned about getting internships.

Interview by Kitty Grady

So, what do you do now?

I graduated less than a year ago, but I’ve already done lots of different things since then. I’ve worked at a local café, a healthy baby food start-up (which included a couple of days working in their factory in Wales), and I’ve also done some freelance writing. I left a job a few weeks ago, and am currently looking for something else, working on my food blog (www.rhiansrecipes.com) in the meantime.

Describe a typical day.

I’ll usually cook something during the day as I tend to test out at least a few recipes per week. I’ve recently started to work more on my food styling and photography, and taking decent photos takes quite a lot of time! In the evenings, I usually write blog posts, do blog-related admin like scheduling social media, as well as working on articles for the freelance writing I do.

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Some of Rhian’s recipes and food photography from her blog

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Diss Talk: Amelia Stevens on the Architecture of Prada

[Although Architecture] may be seen to be rooted in pragmatism, it is a powerful and extraordinarily revealing expression of human psychology [reflecting the] ambitions, insecurities and motivations of those who build.

– An extract from The Edifice Complex: An Architecture of Power

To me, The Edifice Complex by architectural critic Deyan Sudjic, beautifully explains the ways in which buildings throughout history – usually of a patriarchal, political or religious nature – have been carefully and often ruthlessly orchestrated to intimidate their guests. Rather than elaborate external symbols of power, subtle manipulations of architecture have been used to leave guests feeling ‘suitably intimidated.’ Although not reflecting the same ambitions, insecurities and motivations; I was interested in the themes explored in Sudjic’s writings and how they might be applicable to the analysis of many other building types and programmes. Characteristically, I chose to write my dissertation on Prada: an Architecture of Manipulation, and the ways in which luxury brands use architecture to manipulate consumers.

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Prada: An Architecture of Manipulation, Dissertation Title Page

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Diss Talk: Imogen Flower on Iranian women singers and their quest to make the world listen

My dissertation examined the interweaving of politics, religion, gender and music in relation to Iranian women singers. My focus was on the changes incurred by the revolution in 1979, which saw a dramatic shift from the modernising, Westernising stance held during the Pahlavi era (1925-1979) to the Islamic theocratic rule secured by Supreme Leader Khomeini.

As dominant attitudes towards religion and gender changed, legislation surrounding music, which Khomeini believed was ‘like a drug’, also transformed to correspond with Shari’a law. Under immense religio-political pressure, music largely retreated into the private sphere, with the notable exceptions of the revolutionary hymns and anthems played by the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, and the establishment of the annual Hymns and Revolutionary Music Festival in 1986. More specifically, the solo voice was thought to symbolise Western individualism and consumerism, antithetical to the revolutionary vision; and, furthermore, women’s voices were considered to make men think of things other than God. As a result, Iranian women singers were hit hard by the revolution, which appeared to present them with an ultimatum: either stop singing or leave their country.

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Parissa performing at the Shiraz Arts Festival, 1967.

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@cambridgegirltalk on Spotify

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

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

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Diss Talk: Eleanor Kashouris on the body, writing and childbirth

(This article contains mentions of abortion, obstetric abuse, battery and discussion of cis-sexism).

My dissertation looks at one particular ‘girl talk’ and its codes of transmission: women talking about giving birth. I first became interested in birth stories when reading about the 2013 California court case of a woman, Kelly, who sued her obstetrician for battery after he performed an episiotomy on her as she begged him to stop. This is just one story in a history of birthing bodies labouring under abuse of authority: the Mexican woman unable to communicate with her doctor, told by her mother to do as he said; the women pressured into convenience caesareans or else labelled ‘too posh to push’; the trans man terrified to give birth in an NHS hospital; the six out of ten US episiotomies performed without consent.

There is clearly a need for talk about birth- education in the form of transmission of stories. Nevertheless, my reading prompted the realisation that there is only one established genre of women talking about birth: Old Wives’ Tales. The bad reputation of this grisly genre precedes it, leading to the startling realisation that our stories of birth do not come from those who have given birth themselves. Instead, they come from medical professionals, the state, partners and friends. Think about the books you have read with birth scenes, the films, the TV shows. Where were these stories coming from?

And yet, birth is a huge moment in anyone’s life. We need stories about birth. When it comes to talk about birth, a woman talking to other women forms a ‘we’; building solidarity amongst diverse groups and enabling us to transmit feminist critique from this place of solidarity. But we must also recognize that such bonding also engenders division. In a patriarchy, women too are responsible for the transmission, and often the enforcement, of social rules and codes. Where solidarity can be built across women, birth talk can also exclude certain groups.

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Whose story is it anyway? A typical filmic representation of childbirth which excludes female subjectivity

Continue reading Diss Talk: Eleanor Kashouris on the body, writing and childbirth

Mum Talk: Messages from our mothers

In celebration of Mother’s Day, it seemed only natural to turn to our most loyal fans and generous patrons: our mums. As we grow older the adage that ‘mum knows best’ only rings truer and truer. So, with a postcard penned by Sabira Khakoo and some life hacks from Pauline Grady, we turn to them for a dose of wisdom and love that only mothers know how to give.

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‘Women in Fashion’ panel event

On 14th March, The Webb Library in Jesus College hosted Cambridge Girl Talk’s second event ‘Women in Fashion’ with Jane Shepherdson CBE, former CEO of Whistles and Brand Director of Topshop; Kerry Taylor, fashion historian, auctioneer and owner of Kerry Taylor Auctions: the world’s leading fashion auction house; Pandora Sykes (freelance journalist, stylist, brand consultant and presenter of The High Low podcast) and Ellie Pithers, fashion features editor of British Vogue. The event was chaired by Dr Alice Blackhurst, Junior Research Fellow in Visual Culture at Kings College. Check out pictures and highlights from the evening below.

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Diss Talk: Amy Murgatroyd on Margaret Harrison

My dissertation looks at the work of Margaret Harrison, a British artist who made a series of pieces in the 1970s about various issues affecting women at the time (and indeed, still). Her pieces are consciously feminist and activist, and tie into her heavy involvement in the Women’s Liberation Movement, participating in consciousness-raising groups, meetings and protests like the one that took place at the Miss World Beauty Pageant in 1971, where Harrison played the character of “Miss Loveable Bra”, wearing orange fur nipples!

Even Harrison’s earliest work was vociferously political: her first exhibition, in 1971, consisting of a series of pop-art-style drawings that subversively played with the gender stereotypes embodied by cartoon superheroes and pin-ups, was shut down by police on its first day due its ostensibly offensive content. Police at the time said that it was her representation of men (such as Hugh Hefner) in stereotypically ‘sexy’, feminine clothing that most offended their sensibilities.

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Margaret Harrison, Remake of Bunny Boy, 2010.

Continue reading Diss Talk: Amy Murgatroyd on Margaret Harrison

Grad Talk with Roisin: life beyond the bubble

Grad Talk is back with Roisin Beck Taylor‘s tales of deerhounds, woodworm and illustration. Having graduated from Emmanuel in 2016 with a degree in HSPS, she is working as a farmhand before starting a Masters at St Andrews this autumn. Here she shares her experiences of rustic living and recommends taking it slow after leaving the Cambridge bubble.

Interview by Alina Khakoo

So, what do you do now?

Desperately saving money for a Masters. I work on a remote hill farm two days a week, two days as a barista in a farm shop cafe, two days on a flower farm, and on my day off I go on adventures with my long-legged deerhound.

Describe a typical day.

At 6.15am my alarm goes off and I drive up to the farm. I walk and feed dogs in the boarding kennels for two hours before breakfast and then eat my body weight in toast. The morning consists of mucking out horses, feeding five hundred pigs and walking dogs again. After lunch, anything goes, by which I mean my practical skill set has drastically expanded since I came home from Cambridge. In the past six months I have learnt to dry stone wall, drive a tractor, pull down and reconstruct a ceiling, hack old plaster off walls, lay and grout tiles, pressure hose pig shit off shed walls (my least favourite job), lay concrete flooring, refurbish old furniture pieces, treat woodworm in roof beams, the list goes on. Whatever strange and exciting jobs I am tasked with in the afternoon is usually followed by bringing in the horses, a quick coffee and shovelling large numbers of biscuits into my face, then back to round three of walking dogs. The working day finishes about 5pm, at which point I return home physically exhausted, smelling of animals and plaster dust. I make myself a viciously strong coffee and try to get some reading done before a scaldingly hot bath and desperately withstanding falling asleep at the dinner table.

Continue reading Grad Talk with Roisin: life beyond the bubble

Diss Talk: Katie Urquhart on ‘eighteenth-century lad culture’

My dissertation examines student behaviour at the University of Cambridge in the eighteenth century. In the period of the Enlightenment, you’d perhaps be surprised to learn that Cambridge was in many senses declining: its student populations falling; its academic standards criticised. My dissertation challenges this rather stoic perception of the University by examining the violence, drunkenness, and sexual promiscuity of its students.

So far, my forays into the archives have revealed duelling between students, tussles over prostitutes, and letting off fireworks whilst rioting at Clare College Gates. Perhaps curiously, I’ve had this project explained to me as ‘eighteenth-century lad culture’.

The problem for a historian of gender here is that the University was a singularly male environment – with the exception of bedders and launderers. The question, then, is what does it mean to study masculinity without reference to a female counterpart?

Continue reading Diss Talk: Katie Urquhart on ‘eighteenth-century lad culture’

Grad Talk with Julia: life beyond the bubble

In this week’s instalment of Grad Talk, we turn to recent Jesus graduate Julia Cabanas for some blue-skies thinking on careers and ambition. Taking a pause from her busy schedule of sketching and model-making, here she gives us the blueprint on life at an architecture firm, what she misses about Cambridge and what her hopes are for the future.

Interview by Kitty Grady

So, what do you do now?

I’m an architectural assistant at a young architects’ office in Highbury and Islington.

Describe a typical day.

I get to work at 10am. Usually there are team meetings in the office or via Skype with the Mumbai, Singapore and Amsterdam offices. Normally I work on a particular project for a couple of weeks. This has ranged from a small renovation on a local Victorian house to an entire campus masterplan on the other side of the world. Day-to-day tasks include hand-sketching, Photoshop collages, 3D modelling, model-making, detail drawing and compiling reports on InDesign. After a lunch break spent discussing the latest political blunders with my colleagues, it’s a solid few hours of design work. At 7.30pm, I leave the office – avoiding the London’s rush hour – and have a cosy night in.

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Street style: #DressLikeAWoman

Following the Twitter backlash Donald Trump is facing over comments that his female staffers should ‘dress like women’, Alina Khakoo and Kitty Grady decided to take to the streets to ask Cambridge students and locals for their thoughts on gender and personality, dressing and comfort.


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“I don’t think there is one particular way to ‘dress like a woman’. I make a lot of my own clothes so it’s when I’m wearing those that I feel most comfortable. I made this jumper, scarf and hat. I love it because I make clothes for my body and so they fit better. They’re so much more enjoyable to wear because I’ve made them myself.”

Continue reading Street style: #DressLikeAWoman

What exactly does it mean to #DressLikeAWoman?

By Kitty Grady

This week the President of the United States and Leader of the Free World came under yet more criticism for reportedly telling his female staffers to ‘dress like women’. Naturally, a deluge of Twitter responses quickly followed with female doctors, sportspeople, soldiers, racing car drivers and even astronauts posting pictures of themselves to show Donald Trump exactly what women wear to work.

This was all an important reminder to check our inherent bias, and I was ashamed to feel even a tinge of shock from seeing a picture of a woman wearing such heavy-duty uniform or holding a gun.

However, what I immediately noticed was how slim the response from women in non-uniformed careers has been thus far. And this, presumably, because they really do have to #dresslikeawoman every single day.

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Grad Talk with Ruby: life beyond the bubble

For the second instalment of Grad Talk, we spoke to Ruby Stewart-Liberty who recently graduated from Jesus with a degree in history. Now working for the Civil Service, here she shares her sparkling insights and pearls of wisdom on how to shine bright post-Cambridge.

So, what do you do now?

I’m a civil servant, on the Civil Service Fast Stream.

Describe a typical day.

My day begins by squeezing myself onto the tube at 8.20am. The heady days of walking through King’s to late morning lectures are long over. Aside from that, no two days are the same! I’ve been to training sessions in the Locarno Room at the Foreign Office, attended select committee hearings at the House of Lords and I get to travel across the UK for meetings with regional teams. I’m currently writing a communications strategy for an exciting project.

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

By Alina Khakoo

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

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

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

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The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, Guerrilla Girls, 1988

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

Grad Talk with Saliha: life beyond the bubble

January is all about looking forward. So, for any prematurely fatigued finalists unsure what the next chapter may hold, Girl Talk decided to interview our recently graduated female friends for some career inspiration and general words of wisdom about life beyond the bubble.  For the first in our series, we spoke to banker-slash-baker Saliha Shariff, who graduated in 2016 from St. Catharine’s with a degree in Economics.

So, what do you do now?

I joined the grad scheme of a small investment bank in October – it’s a rotational scheme with a big focus on equity research. 

Describe a typical day.

I get to the office just before 7am – we have a meeting every morning from 7:15 to 7:45, in which research analysts present their new research notes to others at the firm. I’m working on a small project of my own right now, so the rest of my day isn’t really too structured unless I have any other meetings. I spend the day reading articles and research papers, collecting and analysing data, and writing. Then I leave the office at around 6:30pm (with much-treasured lunch and tea breaks throughout).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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