Women of the World Festival

This was supposed to be a proper write up; now it’s a slapdash summary for posterity (a half-full cup of coffee fell out of my hand onto my MacBook over the weekend and until it dries I’m relying on a combo of my iPad, and a borrowed laptop which feels like a desperate midwinter fling).

  • Session 1: Feminism and Power Introduction featuring Jude Kelly, Jane Garvey, Kira Cochrane, Shirley Williams, Sarah Brown and astronomer Maggie Aderin-Pocock (plus Maggie’s baby daughter, in her pram).
  • Session 2: The Squeezed Middle  Uninspired title but great session on Women in Business with Cheryl Dart, Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf and Tanni Grey-Thompson. The word “inspiration” is trite but Tanni really is.
  • Session 3: Rape and the Law Pretty grim, obviously, but necessary. My mum’s a survivor of rape and sexual violence, so is one of my all-time heroines, who founded a national charity in the US. Cathy Newman (from Channel 4 News) was chair, and challenged the Met’s spokesperson very well on conviction rates (1 in 20 now vs 1 in 3 in the 1970s). Despite that woeful statistic I didn’t come away quite as angry as expected: I was pleased to hear about the support services in place for women working in partnership with the Met.
  • Session 4: Becoming an MP Brilliant Q&A and discussion session led by MPs Lucy Rigby, Miranda Whitehead, Sarah Cope and Nikki Molnar (and Diane Abbott, who sneaked in during the breakout sessions and sat a foot away from me). Circa 65% of the way through writing a novel about a new woman MP, I thought meeting some actual woman MPs might be an idea (so far I’ve only spoken to women in the job my character did before she became an MP). I was intrigued as to whether it would be full of sharp-suited aspiring career-politicians, or other awkward skint writers researching novels. The truth was somewhere in-between. I just about managed to stop feeling everyone else in the room was better than me for long enough to sound like someone with a brain and enjoy it a lot. I don’t think I’ll be running for office anytime soon but building on the campaigning work I do at the moment for sure.
  • Session 5: Maxine Peake in Conversation The perfect end to the perfect day (look it up on YouTube). I didn’t feel I wanted to stay behind just to babble about how much I loved Martha Costello dancing to Joy Division in Silk, but I got a nice pic of her chatting to others. During the Q&A someone opened with “I love you Maxine!”  and I briefly did a double-take before I remembered we share a name. Since no-one’s ever actually said that to me specifically, I might claim it for my own.

Sessions I didn’t get to because they were on other days or clashed with those I went to but which are on YouTube

  • Feminism and Privilege Featuring Renni Eddo-Lodge.
  • Gender In The Classroom I think this was from the whole-day conference on gender and education which ran concurrently with everything else.
  • Does Page 3 Make The World A Better Place? Short answer: No.
  • Vicky Pryce: Prisonomics As you may or may not know, she used her time, as it were, to write a book about women and the prison system, and she was speaking to promote it. I’ve looked up the session on YouTube – refreshingly, no-one mentioned her ex-husband at any point. I mean, she could do with a sweet tea and a friend telling her to choose better men but frankly so could I and frankly couldn’t we all.
  • Neurotrash How neuroscience is used to further sexism and how we can stop it happening.

Stuff I would like to see more of at future WOWs:

  • Women and disability. Preferably including hidden disability. Preferably including me. This turned from a joke on Twitter into a potential reality in 12 hours. I tacked it onto the end of a conversation about my novel research with the head of public affairs who came over to ask me about it at the MP session, and she took my details so it may – MAY – actually happen.  I will basically bang on a lot about the interlinking issues of gender and disability, how for ages I dealt with mine by hero-worshipping other women and why that wasn’t the best plan.
  • More about women and the criminal justice system The Vicky Pryce talk was great, but I would like to see more from this angle. I listened to Melanie Jamieson do a talk on Dyslexia/Dyspraxia/ADHD/ASD and the Justice System last year and think she’d make a great panellist. Incidentally, some time ago I wrote a very rough first ten pages of a play about a senior journalist being interviewed by a judgemental young hack after her husband goes to prison, which may or may not become my next project when The Novel is finished. Depending on lots of things. Like whether it ever is. And what else my brain cooks up meanwhile…
  • Relationships, parenting, business and families from a minority perspective Too many minorities feel excluded from these discussions and some so-called intersectional feminism is actually perpetuating that exclusion by labelling those things “mainstream” issues which non-white/cis/straight people shouldn’t bother about (because, gosh, black/LGBT/disabled people don’t have kids or jobs, they’re too busy reading Foucault…). It would be nice to see this addressed sensibly.
  • Supporting female creatives Women-in-STEM talks are brilliant but many women in the arts also need advice on getting ahead
  • Frances Barber In Conversation She can do anything. Read her shopping list, say “Sod men, marry me” – I don’t mind; really.

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