Day of the Girl – a feminist Love revolution

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Looking East as we rose on the London Eye, #DayoftheGirl October 11

In December 2011 the UN decided to create the International Day of the Girl, which is October 11 each year. The day is to raise awareness of the many inequalities faced by girls around the world, and to celebrate their achievements. Women of the World (WOW) at Southbank Centre, London, mark the occasion by a day filled with activities for girls, including speed mentoring early in the morning with successful women in a diverse range of fields, on the London Eye. I took part as a mentor on Tuesday and found it very rewarding. I remember how much I could have done with some good advice on real life matters when I was a young teenager. At that age the adults you mostly get to speak to may be family or teachers, and may not touch on all your areas of interest. I was very moved and this is what I wrote.

Caitlin Moran said, this country has been run by men who went to boarding schools for far too long. These schools are like businesses that people pay to send their children to. They are not like the real world where people care about each other.

She said, she’s met these men, and they are not more clever or special than many of us. They were just brought up to feel entitled to lead, but they do not understand most of us. She said, no one will ever just hand you power, you have to go and get it. Don’t worry that you don’t look like the others who have power, it’s ok to look different. She said it’s an exciting time because we have the possibility to change things in massive ways.

She had a message for the teenage girls, to be kind to themselves, and to learn how to accept compliments, because many find that very difficult and struggle with low self esteem. She advised them about their future – to follow their passion and make something of their own, a project or career. Because in the end the satisfaction you get from those achievements of what is within you to succeed, will be far more rewarding than what you get from a marriage or from having children. My heart sang. It is so important that girls are told this, that they (we) are reconditioned.

She said Love yourselves, and be nice. Be kind to each other and support other women.

This Day of the Girl had already moved me so much. It was afternoon now in the Royal Festival Hall, but breakfast had brought me to tears.

I had been so hard on myself the day before, so angry because I thought I had failed. I had performed Girl in Suitcase at the weekend and was looking back with unflinchingly self-critical eyes. I knew I must do much better, and told myself sternly what needed to change in future.

Still I went to bed early and though it took a while to quiet my mind for sleep, I was woken by the alarm when it played at 5:30am. Deliberately getting up at that hour is usually reserved for journeys to foreign lands. This, however was to take a different sort of flight. I showered, dressed, grabbed a bite and then cycled to Southbank Centre. I went in the building and was given a name badge and told I was in Capsule U. I got a cup of tea and waited; I was in good time. To my surprise when the voice on the tannoy announced the first groups to make their way to the London Eye, U was one of them. As we gathered, I recognised one of the women. I was unsure if she was facilitating, or mentoring like me, as I had seen her working at Southbank Centre before, as well as giving a talk at this year’s WOW. It was about her experience of the criminal justice system – serving time in prison and coming clean off drugs after many years’ addiction. I introduced myself and told her I had seen her powerful talk. She said it had been an important moment for her as since then she had gone on to give many talks in prisons and to the NHS for example. By telling her story she could destigmatise people with addictions to help health and legal professionals understand that treating them like patients is far more positive than as criminals. Her name was Nina, and she was also mentoring. It was her first time, my second. I had taken part in this 3 years ago, but had since doubted how helpful I could be to school girls. This year however I had regained confidence and felt that this would be a very good thing for me to do. Meeting Nina before we even started really reassured me. I was not alone with my dodgy past and unconventional pathway. I was in brilliant company! I settled into my group with ease, feeling absolutely certain that I had very valuable contributions to give to the girls we would be mentoring. Whatever they wanted to know, I had real life experience, and I had come a long way. I knew things they for sure were not taught in school. What a privilege and wonderful opportunity for me too.

We were on the Eye for an hour, in each capsule a group of 8 mentors and 8 mentees, and each mentor spoke with 3 different girls for 15 minutes each, answering their questions, having a dialogue. Two of the girls I connected with were considering futures in the arts, one with singing, the other in musical theatre, so I was at least partially in the right ballpark. I know how tough it can be in the arts as a performer, but also how important to follow your calling. I have been through drama school, a bit of university and chanced my way as a jobbing actor before deciding I preferred to create my own work and perform it. Mostly the girls’ questions and conditioned attitudes reminded me (remarkably after 25 years difference! – they were 14 years old) of how school and middle class norms taught me to think when I was their age. How little has changed! It’s not all bad, but it’s not necessarily realistic, or helpful. Mostly the prevailing attitude talks up the importance of financial security, so anyone considering a career in the arts is advised to have at least one back-up plan in case it doesn’t work. That’s all well and good, but starting out with that in mind is a bit like sabotaging your truest desires. Thinking you have failed before you begin. No one wants to prepare young people for the possibility of being out of work for a while, taking low level jobs so you have the headspace to be creative, and definitely not that you might end up doing a more dodgy job like I did. But it happens, quite a lot. My pathway is unique, but so many women try similar things to get by and maintain their independence. The reality is, for most of us if we want to make it as an artist, it will take a while to find our niche. There will be struggles, but that doesn’t mean the moment there isn’t a stable income (!) we should give up and become an accountant. Unless that works for you, and, some people are better at managing several jobs at once, so again you have to find how it is for you. How many of the older people I model for say they wanted to be an artist, but needed a proper income, so after going to art school decided to train in something else. They then got caught up in a mortgage and raising a family until much later in life when freed up, they decided to enrol in art classes. This generation might not have such options – perhaps it’s better to follow dreams in the present instead of deferring.

My other mentee wanted a career in games concept design. Not so much my area but I do model for quite a few animation studios and games design students at university, as well as having dated the odd geek, so I knew a wee bit.

After our Eye revolution, I caught up with Nina a bit more over a coffee, before the talks in the Clore Ballroom led by Jude Kelly. I filled her in more about my past; Soho and the drugs. She asked if I, like her, had told my story. I said I’d been inspired by Jude’s rape survivor talks at WOW, as I had largely buried some of my own experiences, or classified them as insignificant, not worthy of note. A misappropriation, since rape was being opened up for discussion now in the 21st century, and the definition considered more widely without fear of shame. I told Nina I have been writing about some of my experiences, and performing them. Some of it is quite recent. She has a few years on me, and she looked at me wisely and said, “You’ve just begun to tell your story”. I could tell she meant that I would need to tell it and tell it and keep telling it before I was properly healed, and empowered by it. I knew in my blood that this was true, I felt it. I shed tears, and welled up some more as Jude got started with some very stirring speakers.

There was Fatima Manji, the news reader who wore a hijab whilst reporting on the recent Nice attack, and was subsequently criticised for doing so by a Sun journalist. She had spoken up bravely to make it known that it is not ok to discredit someone because of what they choose to wear. There was Frances Morris who is the new artistic director of the Tate Modern – and the first woman to have the job. There was Chi-chi Nwanoku who founded Europe’s first BME classical orchestra, and Luisa Omielan, an award winning comedian. There was also an inspirational 6th form prefect. Two other teenage girls were given the mic too, later in the day on stage with Caitlin reading excerpts from her ‘Moranifesto’, and I think it was important to include them. To show we are not just listening to the mostly white “successful” women in our society, but are also aware of younger women of colour (as it happened) who may be lesser known now, but are already making their mark. One was a spoken word poet leading a collective of performers in her school, and the other, June Eric-Udorie. The very articulate June successfully campaigned a year ago to keep feminism on the Politics A Level syllabus (it was going to be removed), and as well have more female thinkers added, as there was only one (Mary Wolstencraft) out of 16, included. Whilst doing her A Levels, she also writes for the Guardian among other publications.

By the time we went upstairs to listen to Jo Brand and Jude chatting, I was beyond speaking during the networking periods before and after. Nina had gone to a meeting, and I had spoken all that I needed to for the morning. Something had moved inside me, in my heart something was healing but still tender. I was very happy to sit on the floor and just enjoy Jo Brand’s deadpan wit combined with reassuringly human nature. I am quite used to listening to Jude, so it is a more familiar pleasure watching her in conversation with many amazing women.

The strong warm glow and buzz that I left Day of the Girl with, was the same feeling I get at WOW, but I think it’s growing. I really felt that the intelligent women in this country and beyond who have achieved some power, have gotten together and decided that they want all girls and women to share that, to have the same and more. They want to change the world and they are inspiring all of us. They wanted to support us all, in a really loving way, to big us up and encourage all our aspirations. It is a political movement, but there is spirit in it too. It is full of heart and Matriarchal Love. I felt like I belong, and I never want to lose that feeling. I noticed afterwards that some of my usual default thought patterns of comparing myself with others negatively especially when tired, had evaporated. I could overide them now, I was on a higher level. There were more important things to connect with, and bigger aims were possible. I ceased to self criticise as well, as I felt in my heart that there was a reason my weekend performance hadn’t been polished. A superficial shine hadn’t been important for this show – it was all about the content. I was delivering some very personal lines for the first time, live. Revealing sensitive material about my past, to both friends and strangers in my own city. That was what counted, Nina had reminded me without realising. That was what I had to prioritise. Not the blood and glitter, nor interacting with the audience like a cliched hooker, nor allowing them to body paint me – albeit this created a beautiful connection. My focus must be the lines of truth concerning delicate intimate secrets of my past. That’s all. My performance, my therapy.

Caitlin said, we don’t yet know what the world looks like and feels like when women have equality, it hasn’t been created yet. It’s up to us to make it, to have a revolution. Everything could be different; we might invent new economic systems since capitalism doesn’t work. We might create new political systems as the current one is definitely corrupt. Family, social, religious and geo-political structures may completely change. If each of us chooses to live our lives as fully as possible, to make the world better for everyone.

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My view from the London Eye on the morning of October 11, 2016.

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Return to the Womb of Winter Hibernation before Rising for Justice

I was grateful for a good year, and ready for a rest. The rest came early when complications arose with the final event so it was cancelled. During the two weeks preceding my holiday in Spain I raised my voice to artists drawing me on two separate occasions. The holiday was well overdue! It was the continual objectliness of the role of life model, being referred to not as a person, but as their (the artists’) object, so that they could get their picture how they wanted it. I cannot remain passive, and at this point in the term, my level of politeness was challenged also. The part of me that has missed making theatre rose up spying an opportunity for a natural drama. My voice shifted to histrionic tones, without quite shouting I did project! I let them know I am much more than an object and they ought to honour my presence, for without me, they would not have a model. They may have many other models, but right here and now, they have me, with the shape and form that I am. If I need to alter the pose because I have damaged my shoulder in the position it was in (whilst doing the pose), then that is what I will do. No questions. And if I know which poses my body can make on a Monday evening at the end of a term when I have been modelling almost every day, and I am a professional model and have been for 7 years, then I know. Not them, however long they have been drawing for, does not make them master of my body ever. They may have trained in the ’50s or ’60s when the model really was often regarded as little more than an object – and when I say model, you can place ‘woman’ in that sentence in most contexts, especially for the type of antiquated artist I refer to – but we are now in the 21st Century. Get with it. Or get lost I say, because I will not tolerate this.

I returned to Barcelona where I had lived briefly 10 years ago, only this time my home was 5 minutes from the sea. Each morning I walked to the beach, and most days the sun shone very bright, the sky brilliantly blue even if the temperature fairly cool. I did not have internet and barely used my phone. I noticed the quality of my sleep improve, as well as my breathing. I kept a journal – hand written – meticulously. I unpicked thoughts over and over, and lingered on memories of my old self bumbling around the city a decade ago in a cloud of hashish smoke. Nice to feel the changes. It felt like a pilgrimage as I revisited favourite spots, and remembered the particular state of play in 2003. My sister visiting me, spending time with my classmates which helped to prep her for the audition to drama school. She got in, and we spent a year living together while we studied at the same college, reconnecting since I had left home. The massive anti-war demonstration which was the biggest of its kind around the world, must have been all the more satisfying for the leaders who ignored it to feel their supreme power. I had gone with my flatmates all day in the packed streets of the centre, then watched the next day as scenes from every city everywhere doing the same thing were shown on television. You can raise a massive outcry like that and know that you are all doing it, feeling it, but you cannot sway the powers that be, the way things are. Stupid white men Bush, Blair and Aznar were the butt of our jokes but who had the last laugh? Well war one place or another continues. To rise above that we have some way to go.

This holiday felt like the greatest gift, and it came via a friend who offered me a room in her tranquil apartment. I knew I never wanted to return to the way Spirited Bodies had been, but at some point I would take the best of what it had been and develop that. It felt like SB had drifted too far from its core. I had let other people’s wishes take over, and now I was pulling my baby back. I longed to reignite my creativity apart from this direction too, so that drive will be honoured from now on.

I came in touch with a female shaman (shamanka) at the beginning of 2014 and with her transcendental insight she had strong advice for me (she gave me a good telling off!) Not to let others take over ever again. Keep nursing this child of mine as it is a calling and to be given the utmost care. I didn’t skip school, waste my youth in mindless chemical abuse, sell my body and give up all pretensions of wanting a ‘normal’ life, mortgage, academic success and 2.4 children to let people who had some of these things take over. Moreover my grand parents and great grand parents did not give up promising careers in the West to live and work underground in the impoverished East or start the South African communist party, in order that their bloodline would give up the fight for justice. Because when you have made big decisions about your future that mark you forever like an alien, you have the power to change things, but only if you use it. It is a unique and divine power and it comes from the passion of youth. You never knew as well as you did when you were 16, 18 pounding the beats on the dancefloor what was wrong with the world, and also what felt right.

It would be vital for me to nurture my own sacred masculine who had gotten lost amidst my celebration of the feminine. That would help me to avoid leaning on others or being led by them. The shamanka pointed out my inappropriate openness left me vulnerable to others hoping to make money, further a career or even meet women through SB, which ultimately was at my expense, undermining my efforts. The good news is, I feel in such a place now, that there is no turning back; I exhausted other pathways. I am left figuring out the direction for myself and have faith in the perfect unfolding of this beautiful phenomenon, with a bit more experience behind me. In the beginning there were so many questions that I was grappling with – whether to have men model with women, whether to make events more theatrical, whether to organise every element of an event myself or combine with organisations of artists, whether to target ‘vulnerable’ women or to create a financially viable operation aimed at wealthier women, whether to stay attuned to the shamanistic 5 Rhythms community or go more political with the women at Southbank, whether to include professional models or create a franchise. I know a lot more now where my heart wants to go with this, and experience has taught me much about what keeps the essence pure.

I aim to bring Spirited Bodies to the Southbank Centre on Sunday March 9th as part of Women of the World festival, late in the afternoon. This will be more of an installation rather than last year’s presentation. It will be a women only space, where women who have modelled with us before will lead the way, before newcomers are welcome to give modelling a try as well. I will invite the experienced women to read out testimonies from women who may prefer not to tell their own story or cannot be there, though live accounts of the transformational experience of life modelling are also welcome. As a healing space for women, it will be totally cool to simply be present, sit on a cushion and listen. Naturally I would love lots of women to come and draw as well as model, but you are also welcome to just be there. Please get in touch if you think you would like to take part; for the most part a day ticket to the festival will be necessary (£12), but if you have modelled with us before I would like to offer free entry to our session at least.

Apart from this my energies are going into a one woman show I am creating, ‘Girl in Suitcase’, which will first be aired in late March (28th) in South East London as part of the Telegraph Hill Festival. It is a follow on from the two woman show I put on in Edinburgh 2011, though now I have decided to simplify matters and concentrate on one performer – myself. Well one performer plus one or more live musicians accompanying me. I will likely start a new website for the show which may provide a new outlet for my more personal ramblings, allowing Spirited Bodies to be entirely for itself and the participants’ stories.

Bringing me right out of the womb will be One Billion Rising for Justice on Valentines’ Day (V or Vagina Day), Friday 14th February. I am simply going to link to Facebook as all the blurb is there – https://www.facebook.com/events/1445985895616396/. Basically Eve Ensler, creator of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and a healing city for women in the rape capital of the world, Democratic Republic of Congo – leads a host of prominent feminists from MP Stella Creasy, QC Helena Kennedy, actress Thandie Newton, performance artist Skin and many others in campaigning to end all violence against all women everywhere (one billion women in the world it is estimated will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes). Between 12 and 2pm in London, Trafalgar Square there will be speeches, performances and dancing. But wherever you may be in the world, there may be an event near you, or you can start your own. A ‘One Billion Rising’ panel discussion at the start of January got my feminist senses buzzing again, and most of the room dancing by the end; it was electrifying. Hosted by Jude Kelly of Southbank Centre and much of the WOW team, it really helps get the momentum going for V Day. Returning to the idea of balance however, The Southbank this weekend is holding a festival to honour men, Being a Man.

That’s all for now, look forward to crossing paths in the upcoming Year of the Horse.

a Barcelona beach in December

a Barcelona beach in December

sleeping on the job

sleeping on the job

my Oriental double?

my Oriental double?

Naomi Wolf & Women of the World festival, Southbank

Wolf got in trouble for revealing too much of herself in her latest book entitled ‘Vagina’. Controversy, talking about her own vagina. She says that word a lot, as well as describing its different quadrants, outer and inner labia, clitoris, G-spot and perineum. She learnt a lot about vaginas since she had a spinal injury which cost her sensation in that area, and also layers of consciousness she says. She felt sad and didn’t know why till the injury was diagnosed, then corrected and sensation returned. This made her aware of what she missed when normal use of her vagina was restricted. The incredible euphoria accompanying orgasm that added meaning, direction to her life. She got to researching vaginas and found some hidden material, which explained something of our sexist culture which loves to mock the vagina. About how there is a brain to vagina connection or relationship, and that the range of euphoria and energy that the vagina may release is immense. The clitoris and G-spot are opposite poles of an axis simultaneously capable of reaching each other. The suppression of this research speaks volumes.

It is well known and addressed that erectile dysfunction affects or is related to many areas of a man’s life, altering his performance. Naturally there is a similar relationship for women and their vaginas, but that is less discussed.

When a woman seeks out sexual pleasure and is supported by her culture in doing that, dopamine is released in her, she becomes more confident and her oxytocin levels rise. Creative hormones move her forward with positive energy. Dopamine makes a person less easy to push around, to subjugate. We have internalised the idea that women’s sexuality is ridiculous. In her book ‘Fire with Fire’  Wolf asserts that women are on the route to equality, and to achieve it they must stop being victims. During the ‘sexual revolution’ in the ’70s, a survey in which women self-reported, showed that 30% of women did not reach orgasm when they want to. It seems there has been a sort of plateau reached as this statistic has hardly changed in the last 40 years.

So the bottom line is female sexual pleasure makes a woman powerful, so information about how to maximise this is not popular with patriarchal systems like religion. Hence sexuality and also Love can be very subversive.

In the rape culture of war people are dehumanised, and women’s bodies respond negatively to rape reducing their chances of enjoying sex. The autonomic nervous system which leads to activation of good orgasms, is inhibited by anti-erotic impulses such as fear, stress and anger.

Wolf grew up in San Francisco around her lesbian Mum in the ’70s. She observed how her Mum’s friends became shining and integrated in a culture that supported their sexuality; she’d seen the same people previously more withdrawn, before they found their place. This was an environment which emphasized women’s fulfillment as an entitlement. It ought to be on the national curriculum!

What else did I take from Naomi Wolf’s talk at Women of the World festival on Saturday evening? That western feminists have a lot to learn from our sisters in developing countries because she reckons they are at the vanguard of feminism today, really pushing boundaries. That we ought to be kinder to each other – it’s not about judging others because they have had surgery or don’t wish to call themselves feminists. That women hold emotional trauma in at least one quadrant of the vagina and this can be released through sexual healing. None of us are heterosexual, we all respond to a variety of stimuli despite what we say (well I knew that anyway!) And finally women generally need to learn how to receive pleasure better, as this has been suppressed in favour of male sexuality for too long. I resonate strongly with this, finding it hard to really let go most of the time. On the few occasions when I have been least inhibited, either alcohol, drugs or sometimes the euphoria of love have facilitated it. But to reach that high on a more regular basis, I am still working on that.

Going to put up some recent pictures from classes I have modelled in. There is a lot more to say about the WOW festival Lucy and I were at last weekend, like how many celebrities Lucy failed to realise she was chatting up because we’d reached that point in the weekend where she could no longer recognise faces. And how everything worked out for the best despite several drop-outs, because we had so many Spirited Bodies models present to help at our stall so some were able to step in and model too. That when the plan to film the event collapsed this was a blessing because our models gave the most precious and powerful testimonials we could have imagined which might easily have been inhibited with the presence of a camera. Similarly when I asked the audience how many would like to try doing a pose there and then, about half of them put up their hands, no doubt encouraged by the models’ words. The artwork will be up soon.

I went to a workshop about body image by the ‘Endangered Bodies’ group which I also want to report on, and the last event – Alice Walker introducing her film – was the perfect finale, so moving and inspiring. We will be following up our WOW contacts for some time and learning from some of the advice suggested. Becoming a charity may be a good choice for us, but so too might a business which is a social enterprise. The atmosphere at WOW is electric with so many women on fire!

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a glimpse of vagina! I think these pastels are by Jo Parmenter from the session at Richmond Adult Community College

a glimpse of vagina! I think these pastels are by Jo Parmenter from the session at Richmond Adult Community College

quick poses

quick poses

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by model and tutor Hugh

by model and tutor Hugh

Docile Bodies Rising Up

First I want to thank Deirdre, the feminist sociology professor I met at a viewing of a film about a legendary life model last year. She recommended ‘The Politics of Women’s Bodies; Sexuality, Appearance and Behaviour’, a selection of essays collated by Rose Weitz. Weitz explains how historically women were expected to separate their maternal and sexual aspects, as men were unable to accept that the women they wanted to be nurturing their future generations might also have needs. To a large extent this still stands. Hence the duality, the double standard; a woman is either a Madonna or a whore.

In ‘Believing is Seeing’, Judith Lorber discusses how 1 in 2000 births are in fact intersex (hermaphrodite) but this is covered up immediately by “corrective” surgery (which turns them all into females as it’s easier) as well as by a society that doesn’t wish to acknowledge what is outside of its binary vision. Our whole idea of ‘male’ and ‘female’ is a complete farce! Intersex people frequently report feeling trapped in the wrong body, so physically and socially constructed as our lives may be. Karin A Martin describes how we become gendered bodies; what we assume as nature is not just decided by surgical tradition, or nature; but by long held cultural beliefs. In primary school we learn how to behave and move like boys and girls. Girls are taught to take up less space.

In ‘Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernisation of Patriarchal Power’ Sandra Lee Bartky takes Foucault’s assertion that our bodies are insidiously controlled by the most subtle means, i.e. by the fear inside our own minds, which makes us into ‘docile bodies’ only too willing to move to the beat of the elite; and takes it to feminism’s logical step further.

“Subjected and practised bodies”

In ‘Daring to Desire’ Deborah L Tolman debunks a myth which supposes that women are less sexually inclined than men (where did they get that idea?), by showing that teenage girls feel anxiety about showing the true extent of their sexual feelings because of fear about what others will think of them. Written in 1994 this is somewhat out of date and I would like to see the updated version. When I was popping my cherry and bursting my bubble in the early ’90s, if I held off behaving like a total nymphomaniac at all times it was because I only liked goths! Rather I was kind of picky, and liked to be in control. I felt safe in a scene which allowed my sexuality and independence to be exercised. If I thought a guy was hitting on me I lost interest; I wanted to make the conquest. I wasn’t typical in a mainstream way, but on the goth scene I was not unusual. In ‘So Full of Myself as a Chick’, Amy C Wilkins examines a West Coast American town’s goth population for their unique standards of women’s sexuality as demonstrated during the ’90s. This is comparable to what I grew up with. Women on top and in charge, up to a point, which is the message Wilkins has. Polyamorous relationships as frequently exercised by goths still favour male sexuality in the end. Women’s bisexuality is used as an excuse for allowing lesbian relations yet somehow denying women total autonomy. That was then. I am not a practising goth now but sometimes visit. Not being among them it’s hard to see where they are at. I see the younger women as triumphant as ever riding a wave of freedom, at the same time I know how age can catch up with you, and pull you down (as the drugs wear off?)

‘Designing Women’ looks at how women who undergo elective mammoplasty corroborate existing patriarchal hegemony. They are simultaneously pawns and free agents who recognise their enhanced power as women with breasts of a certain shape and size, in a culture predisposed to appreciate such. “…the hegemony of beauty is exercised less in one-on-one interactions wherein a significant other expresses dissatisfaction with a specific woman’s beauty than with women’s internalisation of the generalised other, communicated through the hegemonic gaze.”

Injuries of class; like deviants tortured publicly in the 17th century, poor women bear bodily marks of their crime to remind us what could become of us. “The bodies of poor women and children, scarred and mutilated by state-mandated material deprivation… work as spectacles… for socialising and controlling bodies…” Branded with Infamy, Vivyan C Adair

Letting go of the Internalised Male Gaze

We (women) each have a censor inside of us judging us from a (perceived) man’s perspective. Not bad since we are often trying to attract them – good to be on top of what they may think of us. One step ahead of them. Yet debilitating when taken to an extreme so that concern over our appearance and behaviour dominates our lives, taking up far too much time, and at the cost of far more important issues – like getting equal pay and decent maternity rights. And when our perception of the male gaze informs us that we must relentlessly diet or modify ourselves this is doubtless damaging for health mental and physical. Our internalisation of the ‘male’ gaze is not fictitious though – we glean it from media’s obsession. We women are not supposed to take up physical space – or by extension power space; we’re not supposed to have our own voices.

In ‘Letting Ourselves Go’, Cecilia Hartley exposes how fat women are the only real feminists. For my entire adult life I have had a body that is deemed acceptable as a woman’s; a little pre-pubescent in form but not without curves, I don’t have to diet to remain a healthy size 8, in fact I eat quite a lot of what I want. I don’t go to the gym, but I am a compulsive cyclist and if I don’t get that buzz racing round the city I start to feel restless. And I hold tricky poses day in day out because that gets me high too. Natural expression and genetics. What am I doing pushing body confidence? Sharing a good feeling; and besides it’s more than just bodily boldness; confidence spans so many realms. If I can give something I take for granted to lots of others, maybe the universe will show me what has previously eluded me.

There is so much more I could say about this thought provoking book, but I must to bed and finish reading it!

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The Pieta at Spirited Bodies 10; 8/2/13, photo by Gil Limor

The Pieta at Spirited Bodies 10; 8/2/13, both photos by Gil Limor

Appreciating Life Art when you are Undressed

This evening was a little chilly in the Daniel Libeskind Space on Holloway Road, but at least we could move as we perused some outstanding art works of the figurative variety. It was a ‘Clothing Optional’ event and most of the guests obliged as did some though not all of the artists. It was the first time this group known as Guerilla Galleries had put on such an event and no doubt it will be a learning curve. I know myself how tricky photography can be with a group of nude people – how do you take shots that everyone feels good about for one thing? Someone’s bum is bound to look too big and other parts sag ungainly and no matter how much you tell them it doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t wash. Photography is so easy today and potentially in the hands of a ludicrous number of creeps. The organisers received several complaints from those unkeen to be snapped willy nilly, myself being one of them. I don’t have a problem appearing nude on the internet. That however is different to being shot at quite surreptitiously when one is unaware. This is called rude, and technology is in the hands of plenty people who need to be taught manners! I am feeling a little matronly all of a sudden and feel quite sure that if such an event is repeated, hosts would do well to employ the presence of a few dominatrixes with the task of dealing with the too happy snappers.

I would like to show you images of art work from the event, however I will have to wait for them to be sent to me by organisers. I was really enjoying catching up with Spirited Bodies friends from several of our events and workshops as well as meeting new SBs to be, and the presence of unwanted camera work did put me off using my own even for innocent use. Plus there was after all a house photographer with far better equipment than I, so hopefully images will be shared and made public in due course.

I did download these from Facebook from 2 particularly Spirited artists’ Facebook pages – Pilar Camino Alcon has a lovely website too, and Eliza Freespirit was having lots of plasticeine fun.

By Pilar Camino Alcon

By Pilar Camino Alcon

Colourful little people by Eliza Freespirit as exhibited in the 100% Nude exhibition

Colourful little people by Eliza Freespirit as exhibited in the 100% Nude exhibition

Little Spirited figures larging it by Faerie light

Little Spirited figures larging it by Faerie light

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Going underground

Going underground

Very joyful overall so despite the technical drawback I hope they/we continue with events like these, and just keep learning. It was of course indicative of the overall picture in our society of too many creeps outnumbering comfortable and happy women. There was a gender bias in this scenario unsurprisingly, which is reflected too in the number of applications we receive from men, and women. We may alter our tactic to counter this, and be forced to make men jump through more hoops in order to have the privilege of spending time in the nude company of some of our female Spirited Bodies. I think some of the more body anxious women out there might feel safer and more relaxed to know that our event caters to them so impeccably. That men have shown their dedication to our cause and proven their worth and integrity. That men must compete for the honour of gracing the picture they complete. I think about the feminist fetish club, Pedestal (my description) and how the women who run that keep House slaves to see to female guests’ needs and desires. That those men profess a deep love for the Feminine, that they indeed worship Women as Goddesses. That has a pleasant ring to it. I will keep going back to the Women!

A Feminist Uprising in Brockley!

The coolest thing just happened to me. I had been indoors much of the day working from home when I felt my antennae twitching. It wasn’t just the coffee. Thought I’d go stock up on fruit so took a walk in the warm evening.

I got some grapes and plums etc and was meandering back when I bumped into a woman I met last week when I joined up with fellow Lewisham residents who are part of 38 Degrees Campaign group. We had handed in a petition to our MP against plans by government to spy/collect more data on people’s internet use.

So we were chatting about her involvement in a charity supporting refugees in Lewisham, and about my naked events being tricky for some ethnic/religious groups when I saw a woman waving at me from across the way. I told Heather, my companion and she turned and recognised a friend of hers. We joined her in the little park by the street; she was sitting as she had a bad leg. This woman had a slow, lilting Scottish voice and a warmth which seemed to operate on a different time. She described the old ways with affection, when children played outside and books had pages. I recognised her at once for an artist with her care and pleasure to tell me what she valued. It was not a rant, more a musical aside; you might lean in to catch. Someone with a vision and a smile.

I wanted to stay in touch and as I took her details she mentioned an impromptu meeting of women locally coming up soon, they would take over a pub! She said she used to organise regular feminist gatherings in the 80s but had not done so since having children. This will be the first reunion of her womenfolk friends and some new ones for nearly 30 years! I was astounded and felt the serendipity so sweetly. I was/am looking for women. I want to bring back the sense of empowering women to my events. I not long ago removed the ‘Empowering Women Through Art’ tagline as men are blatantly invited too. However since this change I have stopped hearing from women so much but instead have a regular influx of inquiries from men. I want the men; it is important to have them, for themselves and for the women. But my first passion is the women. Men sometimes asked ‘why do women need empowering? – Are they weak?’ The answer is sometimes unfortunately yes. You might not be able to see it but I feel it. I also know that women are increasing in their power as I write; their energy is on the up.

While a few white men basically control the planet’s finances, I think it is safe to say what may be a cliche that women and coloured people and every other minority/alternative do not yet enjoy equality. There is I believe another way to do things… and 38 Degrees represent just that – People, Power & Change. Our MP Joan Ruddock argued that policing the internet is vital for catching evil criminals particularly from the porn industry. There may be much abuse in that area and I could not say I know the facts (who can?) but our society (globally) as we presently exist keeps sex as something which still has taboo about it. The idea of tackling crime by targetting ‘criminals’ is akin to treating disease by symptoms. It is a way to manage things, though I think short-sighted. In a better world, we may look deeper at our beliefs which allow the negative manifestations of crime and disease to function. Work in progress.

Meeting Joan Ruddock

Suffragette Revealed

Rae Flack's images caught the mood

A caged female stares at an audience arriving

Fresh flowers are treated to a trim, stalks first, heads last, all across the boards

Barricaded in, furniture encloses me

Petals scattered, scissor blades are turned to my prim attire

Blouse pierced I hack at sleeves and torso

Flesh revealed, I freeze in crazed stupor

Rae Flack's collages

My thighs are thick with an effervescing femininity as I perform Emmeline Pankhurst

Stripping in stages to discordant Schoenberg;  a feminist raging release from her clothes

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In the early 20th Century Suffragettes gathered at what is now the Battersea Arts Centre for radical meetings. Now this theme is recaptured with theatrical intent. A director instructs me to move subtly as I take the scissors to my garments. But it’s all in the moment, and I just can’t help myself.

There is something extremely potent about tearing one’s clothes off with total abandon, so I just go with it like a wild woman. Yet each impulsive thrust is followed by my contemplative stillness; I hold back for a unique build up of my own sexual tension, not directed to this audience, if only to the one in my mind.

Every performance has a new costume for me to destroy. The artists cut me up too, collages created, and a violent, sexy undressing given shape.