Ladyfest Manchester 2008 – Saturday Report

// 10 November 2008

Ladyfest Manchester 2008 Banner

I spent Saturday at Ladyfest Manchester, and although I couldn’t stay for the bands in the evening, I had a really great day. As usual for a Ladyfest Festival it was difficult to decide what to do as the day was so packed with options.

The morning saw me warming up gently with some Tai Chi for self defence – something I’d never done before, and found useful and fun. Somewhat scarily the BBC were filming us for a BBC Four documentary on Feminism, but I still managed to get out of the double hand lock using the “tea tray” technique!

I then rushed upstairs for a discussion on bisexuality led by Jen, Editor of Bi Commuinity News. The atmosphere was friendly, frank, and supportive as bi folks and allies shared their questions, views and experiences. Particularly interesting was a discussion about the discrimination and suspicion bisexual people receive from some sections of the straight world and gay/lesbian community.

I grabbed a veggie pastie (delicious) and headed to the art gallery and craft area, stopping off to have my photo taken for Jade French’s Riot Grrrl Portrait Collection and chatting with various people along the way. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to catch any of the interesting sounding films being shown.

Ladyfest Manchester Information Point

The afternoon saw the main session of the day, a panel discussion on feminism and counterculture. Appropriately for Ladyfest, the discussion focussed on the involvement of women in culture, arts, and music. Prof Sheila Rowbotham kicked off by discussing her feminist idols such as Mary Wollstonecraft and raising the question “How can we assert difference and at the same time, transcend it?”.

Amelia Fletcher then discussed how her negative opinion of feminism (based on stereotypes and misrepresentation) radically changed with the advent of Riot Grrrl. She related some pretty damning statistics on how mainstream indie music is male-dominated, and how this leaves a lack of role models for young female artists. I jotted down some of the stats. Of the 64 people in bands in the Indie Chart Top 30, only 4 are women. Of the 77 people in bands on the Xfm playlist, only 1 is a woman.

Some would say who cares? But I would argue that women’s invisibility in culture is very important. What are we missing if half the human race is not represented in particular genres of art, music and culture?

On that topic, Marion Leonard went on to discuss her research into gender in the music industry. She explained how the terminology used in the music press – such as “Women in Rock” – can act to reinforce women’s underrepresentation.

Kate Graham, co-founder of Guerilla Cabaret explained the reasoning behind the project, the domination of men in the world of theatre and performing arts and how Guerilla Cabaret is attempting to provide a space for emerging female artists. I personally found it fascinating and wish them all the best with the project.

After some audience debate, I headed out to the lobby to purchase a stack of zines from Marching Stars Distro.

Zines! Yeah!

Before I had to leave to catch my train, I just had time to pop down to the Nua Workshop, which wasn’t really a workshop but more of a sales pitch for the sex shop’s products, but it was enjoyable nevertheless.

My views on Ladyfest? I love how every Ladyfest is different in its own way. I love how the atmosphere is supportive, open and welcoming. I love how the discussions are respectful and open-minded. I like the opportunity to just have have fun in a feminist context and experience some picture of what a feminist community might be like. I like seeing familiar faces and meeting new people.

In writing this post, I feel that I’m expected to make some criticisms, as pretty much every feminist event and organised activism these days are frequently subject to wide criticism and analysis by the feminist community. Of course, this self-questioning, self-critical attitude of feminists is something we can be proud of, and criticism and learning is a vital part of any social movement. We’re always striving to do things better, and that’s a good thing.

But I personally tend to focus on the positive. So I’d like to applaud the achievement of the volunteers in organising this event. I admire and respect those women and men who dedicate a year of their lives organising events like this in the face of very many difficulties – certainly no mean feat.

No Ladyfest is perfect – how could it be? Each one grows and morphs from the one before, and lessons are learned. Personally, I had a really interesting day and can’t wait for the next one. Anyone know where it is?

Laura attended Ladyfest on Sunday and may be making her own observations here soon…

Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 11 November 2008 at 12:20 am

do you think there was anything that would be easy for the media to skew into the bad stereotypes?

Lyndsey // Posted 12 November 2008 at 11:10 am

Couldn’t agree more with this post. We should applaud anybody and everybody who devote themselves and their free time to inspiring change in people and their attitudes.

I was there on Friday and thought it was a great step in the right direction.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 13 November 2008 at 5:29 pm

Hi Laurel. Sorry for the delay in replying.

I think that’s always a risk when the media comes into contact with grass-roots feminism, and people will have to weigh up the risk against the possible benefits of more media coverage.

I think its pretty much guaranteed (in my experience anyway) that media coverage can never be true to what feminism is all about, even if it done from a friendly perspective, like apparently, in this case (a BBC Four documentary).

But I personally don’t think that feminists should totally reject media coverage across the board, just be aware that it’s never going to be a perfect representation.

It also depends on what people consider a bad stereotype, as some people might consider certain things bad stereotypes and others perfectly valid or radical/good things. So there’s no simple answer really.

Alan Pedder // Posted 14 November 2008 at 12:58 pm

Great review Catherine. My boyfriend and I had a great time at the Zion – especially enjoyed the debate – and extend yet another really-well-done to the lovely organisers. I have been running a Ladyfest Manchester week over at Wears The Trousers (www.wearsthetrousers.com) where you can read transcripts from the debate and interview with Amelia Fletcher, Manda Rin, Vile Vile Creatures and The Lovely Eggs. Also a Ladyfest Manchester competition to win a copy of Marion Leonard’s book. Review of the bands coming up!

Ste McCabe // Posted 17 November 2008 at 2:29 pm

Hi. I Just wanted to say how amazing it is to read this review and the positive comments below. I was one of the organisors and as such spent the weekend running about like a lunatic, so it is really encouraging to read the positive comments. Thank you for coming and most of all for contributing and spreading the Ladyfest word xxxx

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