Thoughts

Why us women need solidarity more than ever

This was a monumental week for womenkind, and not in a good way. Over the past few days it came to the worlds attention that one of the biggest names in Hollywood, (Harvey Weinstein if you’ve been living under a rock) is a massive, disgusting, sexual predator. Quite frankly, I’m pissed off. Why does it have to be such an extreme situation for the world to wake up to the fact sexual harassment exists? Because, let’s be honest, it’s become a part of everyday life since evolution.

Like many others around me, as a twenty-something female I’m constantly objectified by vile creatures who think it’s OK to see women as nothing more than a piece of meat. And no, it’s not a matter of us ‘asking for it’ or not, these days it doesn’t matter if a woman in a ball gown or a tracksuit, within seconds they can still be undressed by some complete strangers eyes.

We’re told ‘not to be alone’ and to ‘take care’- but why should we have to? How has it got to the point where women have to walk around cautiously, fearful that they won’t get verbally abused, or even worse? It’s a complete and utter farce.

Now, it’s time to get our voices heard, and it’s time to stand together. I, for one, will be walking in January’s Women’s March, and I hope to have my feminist peers beside me. We all need to join this conversation, because maybe if we do, people will realise the severity of the situation so many people are in.

Earlier this year I spoke to Donna Kaz, (known as Aphra Benz) one of the members of a leading feminist group, the Guerrilla Girls. They first came about in the 80’s, and have remained as prominent figureheads in their movements. The women adopted pseudonyms of deceased female artists and also sported gorilla masks, as ‘issues matter more than identities’.

Youve been a member of the group for 25 years, can you talk to me about how its evolved over that time?
I became a Guerrilla Girl in 1997. At that time the group was experiencing some burnout- members were leaving, some of the girls were exhausted and some wanted to take the group in a new direction so new members were sought. Being a theatre artist I focused on the theatre world- which was just as sexist if not more so than the art world at the time. There were a few other Guerrilla Girls who were into performance such as Lorraine Hansberry, Claude Cahun and Gertrude Stein and we formed the theatre committee. We did quite a lot of work- actions, posters,fax blitzes, and got people talking about sexism in theatre. It renewed the energy of the group and put us back on the map.
Ultimately, the Girls seemed to have many different focuses at that timeand in 2001 we agreed to split into three separate Guerrilla Girls groups – Guerrilla Girls On Tour was made up of former members of the theatre committee, Guerrilla Girls BroadBand and Guerrilla Girls, Inc. were the other two groups. Since that time Guerrilla Girls On Tour has operated more like a touring theatre company, visiting 17 countries and 45 US states with new plays,performances and street theatre actions. Why did you choose to let the world know exactly who you are? Have there been any negative repercussions? I felt it was time to share the story of how I became a feminist masked avenger, so I thought about how my journey might be useful to future generations of activists and artists. I also thought that the tactics of the GGs should be shared with others so anyone could implement them. In the end it has been a very positive experience as I am still Aphra Behn but I am also Donna Kaz and I found that unmasking was, perhaps, even more empowering than wearing a rubber gorilla mask.
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Your performances are extremely audience focused, what have you found the benefits of audience interaction to be? 
The mask is a barrier – between me and anyone I am trying to communicate with. On stage it is even more so because there is the “fourth wall between me and the audience. Guerrilla Girls On Tour developed a specific style of theatre that included audience interaction in an attempt to breakdown that wall. We always requested performance venues where the audience was close to thestage – intimate spaces, and we always had the house lights on the audience so we could see everyone in the audience and talk to them, engage them. Now, not everyone in the audience likes this, of course, but we found that we really were able to connect with our crowds by physicallygoing into the audience and talking to them. Then, we developed other ways to engage themthrough activities such as sing alongs, quizzes and questions from the audience. Our performance style is very improvisational so there were times when the audience would react to something we did and we would play off of that. We start our shows by telling the audience it is not aperformance, it is a party and that is what our performances became – a wild celebration of feminism.
What are some of the more difficult situations youve dealt with whilst youve been on tour?
We had a very real and extremely frightening death threat where we had to be escorted off campus that night, it was in Storm Lake Iowa. They invited us back the next year to do a special workshop for the students who were really upset by the threat, and it was great to feel as though we had faced that issue head on and even more so that the campus really supported us. Weve also been heckled, and once an audience member stood up in the middle of the show and started to read from the bible.In all of these situations the audience sort of gets into a cross talk and we just let them go at it and discuss whatever is happening. With the bible quoter, another member of the audience then began to challenge what she was reading and it turned out to be a wonderful moment. Afterwards, a professor told us that it was the first time people with opposite opinions had actually spoken to each other on campus. What more can you ask for? A dialogue began and we didnt really have to do a thing!
Have there been some countries that havent accepted/understood what you (Guerrilla Girls on tour) are trying to get across more than others?
We have learned that what is funny in one country isnt in another, or rather that some people express their delight at comedy by laughing and rolling in the aisle while others prefer to sit in silence and then tell you later that they thought the show was hilarious. Then again, there are many times where people want us to deal with an issue, and we say to those people that what we do is shed light on an issue so that our audiences can feel empowered to stand up and then fight that issue after we are gone. This is why we usually try to set up workshops for the community wherever we perform, we cant tackle every issue so we try to share what we do so that others can then take up the cause. 
Why do you think women are still so underrepresented in the arts?
I dont know the answer but I suspect it has to do with this patriarchal world we live in. Having a groper for a president doesnt help. 
In a world where the lines between genders have become more and more blurred what doyou think the place of the Guerrilla Girls will be?
We will continue to support gender equality and gender freedom.
What has the ‘Trump’ effect been on the group?
My book, UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour came out on November 1, 2016. For the next week I went around New York City giving readings and talked about how this could finally be the year of the female narrative. Then Trump was elected (on November the 8th 2016) and everyone got depressed and angry. My book then turned into a motivational platform. “We’ve got this, I started to tell people who asked me what they could do about Trump. Artists are the truth tellers of society. Our job is to reflect the truth back to the world. There is no way we shall bedefeated by a liar who is president if we just keep our heads down and dont let up on the truth. The biggest effect has been that the election made us realise we cannot stop what we are doing… not just yet.
You can visit Guerrilla Girls on Tour!s website at ggontour.com or follow the group on Twitter at @guerrillagsot. Donnas book is available to purchase on Amazon.
Thoughts

Sometimes you can inspire yourself

I love how much we’re celebrating people who achieve the impossible these days, especially with women. People like Malala, who went from the brink of death to a Nobel Peace Prize winning Oxford Student, or Hillary Clinton, who, despite not even winning the election, still made history in a way that no woman in American politics had before. It cannot be argued how incredible these females are, but we must also think of those who have, in the grander scheme of things achieved less, but in their own personal terms they have climbed their own Everest. I consider myself to be one of these latter females.

Exactly one week ago today I clicked ‘submit’ on my final piece of academic work (at least for now).  I wasn’t able to cheer the way I wanted to, mainly due to the fact I was on a train to London at the time, but floods of tears began to fall, a cross of relief, exhaustion, and I guess, joy.

Those on the outside may think my reaction was slightly overdramatic, but it has to be said, reader, 6 months ago I never thought I’d come to the end of my MA.

A lot of people- (well at least my friends who are reading this, hey guys) know that I was completely and utterly shook up by the sudden and unexpected loss of my father- right in the middle of my studies. It’s an odd one because I remember the days that followed so clearly, from where I was stood when I got told down the phone that my father had been found, to the panic attack I had in the registry office when I had to sign the death certificate.

Somehow I’ve managed to get through it all, the funeral, multiple lawyers appointments, visits to his grave, all alongside the high pressures of deadlines, and exams. God knows how I’ve managed to get any sleep through it all. Over the past 2 months I’ve even been working full time, as a dream of an opportunity arose, and I clearly  didn’t have enough on my plate..

If somebody had told me this time last year, as I worried about my upcoming masters degree affecting my part time job at H&M, (I lasted 4 weeks doing both, sorry retail) I would be dealing with what I have been throughout 2017, I’d have said ‘no chance.’ Even when I tell outsiders what I’ve been through they’ve been astonished that I’ve come out of this all anxiety free and still with a smile on my face.

The reason why I have? Because I wanted it. I wanted to finish my MA to the best of my ability, a year out just wasn’t an option for me. My current job was meant to be a 2 week freelance project, although it’s now been two months and I’m still going strong. Of course it’s tiring but the opportunities that I’ve had so far from it have been so exciting, and I’m loving working alongside inspiring people in roles I one day hope to see myself in. Of course I still miss my Dad, and that’s not something I’ll get through anytime soon, or ever, but I’d like to think he’s watching me, proud that I’ve not let the experience bring me down.

Thoughts

Is this a masters or an existential crisis?

So, it happened again. I had another Bertha Mason wild woman in the attic freakout. All was well in my evening, I was just washing my hair, singing along to the shower, when I checked my phone. (Waterproof iPhone, I love you.) My friend was messaging me about a shorthand exam. I must tell you, that at the moment I have about a million different channels running through my head, so sometimes things slipped my mind. Unfortunately, today, the last chance of my Shorthand 100wpm (I will get this)- decided to slip my mind, and I had unintentionally double-booked myself.

I instantly thought of ways I could get around this, and they were all unrealistic and stuck even more unnecessary pressure upon myself. I didn’t want to miss either of these things I had going on, but the only real way would be to move my appointment. I couldn’t just not take my exam and waste the stupid-o-clock classes I’d been getting up for all year!

Whilst typing all this out right now, this all seems quite rational, and you’re probably thinking I’m a bit overdramatic… which I think most of my friends would vouch as true. Oops. As all these thoughts were going on, EVERYTHING I need to do between now and June 9th took over my mind, and then the floodgates opened. I felt sorry for my poor, unsuspecting parents whom I’d actually already said goodnight to, they weren’t expecting a Maria panic cry. They tried to comfort me, it didn’t help. They tried to just leave me, I begged for someone to speak. It. was. just. not. pretty.

This is definitely not the first panic I’ve had this year. And over this next, horrifically deadline filled month, it won’t be the last. The worst part is when you question yourself, saying ‘why am I doing this masters?’ Even when I think it, I’m instantly responding in my head, ‘stop being stupid, you know it’s good for your future.’

I think about all the skills I’ve picked up, from I’ve gone from struggling to turn on a Macbook to being an (almost) indesign savvy user. I remember my first shorthand lesson, when I looked at the letters and thought they were hieroglyphics, to it now being a skill I use every day. I consider the work internships I’ve done, and how, when I’ve been in these buzzing magazine offices, watching people produce something that readers can consume and enjoy- and known that those are the places I want to forge a career in. Yet, still, in that split second, I still have that doubt, and those tears. I wouldn’t go as far as resentment, but I’m sure breakdown Maria would speak differently.

They say ‘nothing worth having is easy’, and although I wish this sincerely wasn’t true, I know it is. This experience has wisened me up to the idea of things that seem too good to be true- being just that, and as well as this, due to the personal tests I’ve had in my life over the past 8 months or so, (and trust me, they’ve been huge), I’ve learnt how strong I actually am. I know that I’ll look back on my MA year as an overall life-building time. It’s been filled with fantastic, amazing peers, managed to build my skills and confidence even further, and finally, made me realise that, although anything may not be possible, most things actually can be.

Thoughts

Why having a ‘boy break’ doesn’t mean I’m bitter

I’ve been single for over 2 years now. For quite a lot of people this would be a huge problem, and yeah, it’s has it’s ups and down, but ultimately, right now I don’t think I need anyone.

Having a ‘boy break’ may mean you don’t have someone who says ‘good morning’ to you everyday, or have that extra like on your pictures- (my girls have me covered for that one anyway), but it also means that I’m not sat phone in hand paranoid about when I’m going to get a text back.

Yeah, dates are fun. They’re also an investment of time, money, and frankly, calories. On top of that, they’re a risk, especially that first one. If it doesn’t go well from your side, you have to have that awkward confrontation, and if they aren’t feeling it you have to then be on the receiving end, or worse- you can be a victim of the dreaded concept of ghosting.

Maybe I’m being a cynic, because romance is the last thing on my mind right now. I’m keeping my priorities on number one, whether it’s thinking about my career prospects or spending time with my friends. I just don’t see the space for pursuing anything with anyone (unless they’re  Zac Efron of course).

I’m not even going to go into the dramas that relationships can hold, because fortunately, I’ve not had to deal with that sort of thing in a long time. I’m purely talking about my lack of interest in pursuing the initial part. As I roll my eyes at couples holding hands in the street, and cliche romantic moments on films, I know it’s just not where my heads at right now.

As much as I think this may be a permanent thing, sometimes I do doubt myself, and so do people close to me. ‘One day someones going to come along and change your perceptions on everything’ my parents tell me. That’s probably true! I don’t think I want to be alone for the rest of my life, I do have that dream of the big white wedding and even, (gasp) children some day. That may be an eventual dream, but it doesn’t mean it should monopolise everything in my mind, and I should constantly be on the hunt for a boyfriend. I’m just not bothered!

Is there really anything wrong with not wanting to have someone? Does it really make people abnormal? I don’t think so myself. At the age of 23, and as I finally finish Uni for good in September it feels as if true adulthood is upon me. Why not get to enjoy these last few months of the bubble I’m living in- alone?

Thoughts

Why some friendships have an expiration date

Forgive me for pretty much brain dumping here, but this is a topic that crosses my mind, and that I discuss with the one friend I know I’ll never lose, (my Mum), A-LOT. Friendships.

Now I’ve lived in 4 places for an extended period of time, mixing it up between the North West and the East Midlands, and I’ve been in 7 different educational establishments, from Reception to my Postgrad. That’s a lot of people in different places, coming and going.

Each move has been a new chapter (or 3) in my life, and as I sit and reflect on the current ones, I like to think back on all the people that I’ve come across and befriended over the years. Some are still close friends, some are those that I think of fondly and always want to chat to, although we may rarely meet up- (I’m saying years apart here), and others who have sadly just been passing ships in the night. People, who have at one point been those I couldn’t imagine a day without speaking to, to an almost stranger whose life I only keep up with now through Facebook posts. Do I look back on these friendships sadly and with resentment? No, because at one point they were who I needed, and I was the same for them.

Over the last few years I’ve probably gone through the amount of milestones that most  people experience over 10 years or more, and I’d definitely say that they’ve changed me. I guess its up to what people think, whether it’s for better or for worse, but for me, when I think of myself right now, as I sit here typing away, I proud of the person currently I am. The sad and difficult situations I have been through have guided me to being a driven, more confident woman. I’m excited for what’s next- and hey, maybe I am looking too much into the future, but trust me, after the last 3 years that I’ve had, it’s much more exciting than what has been!

In these last 3 or 5 years I’ve lost quite a few friends, and there are some that I never expected to lose, but in some situations they haven’t been there for me the way I imagined, and maybe they feel the same. Either way, big life experiences change you, and, (excuse the analogy), we aren’t Pokemon, we don’t all evolve.

I don’t like to use the word ‘friend’ lightly, I think with the increase of social media outlets we feel we know each other more, but a friendship is about the emotional connection you feel with someone, not how many pictures they may post online a day, meaning you think you know them. If I was to count how many people I truly call my friends, I think I’d cap the number at 15, because how many people can you really give your whole and emotional self to? I like to give complete dedication to my friends as I think it’s important that they know you’re there as emotional support on ANYTHING, whether it’s picking an outfit or dealing with a huge personal trauma.

Some of these people have been around for years, others only since September. Yet, what I know about true friendships is that time isn’t a factor, I believe it’s all about that click. It may come straight away, or it may take a week or so. Either way, it’s either there or it’s not, and I’m grateful for all those I’ve clicked with, past and present.

Thoughts

Dealing with bumps in the road

Without going into too much detail, the last year has been a complete and utter rollercoaster ride. The highs have been some of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, but the lows have been some of the most difficult situations I’ve dealt with.

I think we all have an inevitable worry that when things are going too well, something bad is going to happen. ‘Sods law’, is a good way of explaining a situation like this, and I would say there is also a sense of irony that runs along side it. No matter how well things are going, something can always go wrong. It can get to the point where we can become slaves to our paranoia, anxious that when things are going so so well, we actually are unable to enjoy them, as we worry about the next hurdle being just around the corner, ready to trip us up when we just aren’t expecting it. That isn’t the direction to go in though, as eventually we begin to lose our enjoyment of the positives, we are unable to appreciate our times of happiness, thinking, ‘things are going too well‘. How is there such a thing as ‘too well?’ The concept is baffling, that we as human beings expect something to take a bad turn as we just aren’t content with all the good going on.

When the bad does happen though, and I’m not saying it is always inevitable, but sadly there are possibilities, it really does seem to happen when we least expect it, and again, this situation can catch us and bring us down. ‘I knew it was going to happen!’ We exclaim, as if we’ve been sat, wallowing, anticipating this negative turn in our lives, yet, if we really were ready for it to happen, it wouldn’t actually be affecting us as much as it was.

These things aren’t in our control, and you know what, it’s not simply the situation that occurs that can be ‘bad’, it’s actually the way we deal with them. Of course, the worst bad situations, like death, aren’t on the normal scale. Things like that are unavoidably going to break you, and, in my view, you have a right to initially wallow, and let the negative emotions take over, because something like that is so hard to deal with. Although, eventually, you do need to try and move on from that, as I’m sure the person that you may be mourning over would never want you to sit and be depressed about it forever, they would want you to go forward and be the best version of yourself.

Slightly more lightheartedly, there are the key stages in life that you may briefly think are the worst things ever to deal with, but they are actually the things that could make you. Now, I’m talking about things like break-ups, and losing your job. I mean, on the former I can’t really say much, but personally, in my limited experience of break-ups, I’m grateful for the breakdown of my last relationship, because I sure as hell wouldn’t be the confident, more considerate girl (woman?) that I am today, and I’m sure, similarly, my ex learnt many things too. Sure, at the time it was grim, but its a learning curve. Similarly, with the loss of a job- something like that is worse than a break up, it can catch you completely off guard and leave you in a very difficult position. Yet, it could also give you that confident boost, to take up something you may have always wanted to do, maybe even a different career? It can actually take you out of a trap, that you may not have ever realised you were even in.

So, to stop my potential waffling, I’m going to say one thing. Life can be completely and utterly horrible and it may put you in a position you never wanted to or imagined you’d ever be in. That’s when the power, the one that you thought you lost in the first place comes back to you. That’s when life brings the real challenges to you. The fight or flight reaction. Who knows how you choose to deal with it? All I know is that you can only test how strong you are if you face these horrible situations, and in my own experience, they’ve built me to the person who I think I can be proud of today.

 

 

Thoughts

In defence of doing things on your own

Who doesn’t love me-time? Those moments where you can just sit at home and relax with a cup of tea, watch your favourite film and just shut the whole world out. In my opinion its the best sort of therapy. Who knows me better than me right? I relish the opportunity to spend time on my own, something that has now become rare.

Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy company, I’m sure anyone who knows me can confirm that I can be extremely needy and crave social activity, but despite that fact, sometimes I still like to take some time out and treat myself to my own attention.

I don’t think alone time should be limited to the four walls of a bedroom, or any room inside a house. Personally, if I want to spend time value alone I like to go out. By go out I don’t just mean I’ll go for a quick coffee- although that can often  be a quick fix, If I want to go out I’ll take it to the extra mile and have a full blown me-day.

This usually includes a shopping trip, and sometimes a lunch trip out as well.  By lunch trip I don’t just mean hiding in the corner at Costa with a muffin and a cup of tea, I mean going to a restaurant, sitting down, and having a meal. Sometimes more than one course too. Now, I can imagine you all sitting and thinking, ‘What a saddo’… but trust me, it’s actually extremely therapeutic. Plus, no-one can judge you for how much you eat if you’re on your own.

When you’re sat alone, whether it’s in a restaurant, on a bench in a town square, wherever, you grasp onto new things. Not to sounds too overly profound but you genuinely do see things in a different way. The people that you’d normally look past have little quirks that you wouldn’t have previously ever noticed. You see individuals, not majorities, and everyone has their own qualities that makes them amazing in their own way.

Putting all other people completely aside and thinking just about number one, the benefits of prioritising me-time is a chance to give yourself any form of therapy that you may crave. Why be embarrassed about going solo as well? You shouldn’t be in the slightest. There’s just one thing that you need to take with you if you decide to go somewhere solo, and it won’t take up much room at all, I assure you. It’s simply a little thing called confidence.

They say you can get away with anything at all if you just do it with confidence. I’m not saying you should take it too far, and start going off on a Donald Trump style rampage, I’m saying if you believe in what you’re doing, and you serve that up, then people won’t even notice anything. If you look like a nervous wreck and draw people to your attention in a negative way, then they’ll look at you in that way.

So, take a leaf out of my book and just do you.