My Speech at Feminism in London 2010

This was my speech in the closing session at Feminism in London on 23 October 2010. 

5118778214_de9399d516_b-300x200I am here as the chair of the committee who organised this day to thank all those who have helped to make it happen.

A year ago when we started to plan this event, we faced the choice of booking Conway Hall again in the knowledge that it was too small even last year or of taking a leap and booking this bigger and significantly more expensive venue.

We decided to take that leap and soon realised we needed to build a bigger and stronger committee, which has now grown to about 15 women. And I don’t think you could find 15 more resourceful and generous and passionate women if you tried. We range in age from early 20s to late 50s, we are lesbian and we are straight, we are black and we are white. Some of us are mothers and some of us are not or not yet; one of us gave birth this summer. All of us have fitted this work around day jobs, families and personal crises. Rather than list all their names, I thought I would randomly tell you about a few of us.

Alice Doyne volunteered to join when she came to her first LFN meeting some time last winter and she has organised the stalls. Anna Gomberg, a young science teacher, has found time to co-ordinate the youth workshops and the logistics of the day. Yula Burin designed the badges and used her wisdom to make us sit down and keep talking when we started to fall into conflict. Lili helped with the website.

There have been moments over the past year when the responsibility has felt onerous and I would like to thank Sally Campbell, Sabrina Qureshi, Lisa-Marie Taylor and Finn Mackay who all encouraged me to carry on when it felt too hard.

And then there are those who’ve helped with fundraising. Catherine Brogan came to her first LFN meeting in April in a bar in the Royal Festival Hall. Some noisy men disturbed us and without a moment’s hesitation she jumped up and told them to shut up. And they did. And a few minutes later on hearing how much this event will cost to put on, she offered to host a fundraiser. That was the legendary Midsummer Feminist Party which combined amazing women poets and musicians with workshops, discussion and relaxation in a South London urban oasis. And Catherine has organised a fantastic programme for the after party later today.

Amy Corcoran organised an equally legendary series of feminist musical evenings and Alison Grant weekend and evening walks, Katie Toms and Becca Morden organised a hilarious pub quiz and Sarah Maple the legendary art auction.

Orna Ross approached us with the idea of a screening of Made in Dagenham and Shannon Harvey single-handedly made it happen. Shannon also co-ordinated the women’s history – herstory – exhibition that we have here today.

I would like to thank all the speakers and facilitators who have all given their time for free and who have shared their knowledge, wisdom and skills with us all. And of course the 40 or so people who have volunteered to help out today. And the London Pro-Feminist Men’s Group, and Jon Waters in particular, for running the crèche. Thank you to all of you.

I’d also like to thank Vanessa Engle who in March this year got the London Feminist Network and Feminism in London on prime time TV. Even though it wasn’t EXACTLY as we would have done it (way too many lentils) – she did it – and a lot of you are here today as a result. Because she filmed it exactly two years ago, it also gives us an opportunity to take stock and see how far we have come, so quickly.

I would like to thank Rob Oldham for creating the online registration system and also all the men who are here today. Contrary to the popular stereotypes, we don’t hate men. We hate what capitalist patriarchy does to men – just as we hate what it does to women.

We thank you for respecting our women only spaces, which we need so that we can learn to see what we have been trained to not see, to unlearn our training in deference, and discover our power to organise and resist. We believe that men you also need your own spaces to explore how the exploitation of women also limits and stunts, and potentially also corrupts, your own lives and how you can best challenge and work against it. Form your own feminist reading groups and read the great feminist classics.

Feminist scholarship has revealed the links between capitalism’s exploitation of women and the exploitation of colonized peoples and of nature and the earth’s resources. Feminist analysis has shown that the exploitation of women is the cornerstone of capitalism. We do not want equal rights with men if that means the right to exploit others. We want a different kind of world.

These are terrible times. As the resources of this planet come ever closer to exhaustion, capitalist patriarchy’s ruthlessness will increase. As we are seeing with the explosion of the “sex industry” which now has a 75 billion dollar annual turnover – bigger than the combined film and music industries. This is money stolen from women. This brutal violent industry is a misogynistic propaganda machine. Because it tells lies and trivialises and glamorises violence, it makes war more likely. And this is how our boy children learn about sex – from the age of 11 on average. And its seepage into the wider culture grooms our girl children to accept a life of sexual objectification. It is a catastrophe.

As Chitra mentioned this morning, this year because of pressure from the women’s movement, it became an offense for men to pay for sex with someone who has been coerced or exploited. But have there been any convictions? Or even prosecutions? I haven’t heard of any. But I have heard that the Metropolitan Police have publicly named and shamed prostituted women on their website, even though they had not committed an offense. Women who more likely than not were tricked or coerced into prostitution as children or turned to it out of financial desperation and for whom leaving it is easier said than done. Let’s understand that our destiny is linked. So long as one woman is abused, oppressed or exploited BECAUSE SHE IS A WOMAN, we all remain second class citizens.

Let us become such a force that never again will they dare fob us off with a new law they never had any intention of implementing. Let us become such a force that never again will they harass and blame the exploited while letting the abusers get off scot free.

Let us become such a force that the men who rule this country will never again dare to insult us as they have this year by disenfranchising us with an election of white men who are indistinguishable in their awfulness; or by taking us into another brutal war; or by handing our financial future to the boy racers who control the banks or by neo-colonial exploitation in Africa and elsewhere.

There is so much for us to do, so many corners for us to fight.

I would like to thank all the women who have come here today and for making this movement what it is. I hope that this day has inspired you and that you are not overwhelmed by the task that confronts us. Take comfort that our numbers, our determination are growing. Join us at Reclaim the Night on Saturday 27 November and at Million Women Rise on Saturday 5 March next year. Join us at our Christmas party. Let’s celebrate our successes as we prepare for the long haul.

And finally I would like to thank the woman who has done more than anyone else to shape this day. Without her intelligence, enthusiasm, kindness and commitment, we wouldn’t have made it. Chitra Nagarajan, thank you. Chitra, where are you? I think you should stand up.

And of course also Finn Mackay without whose vision we wouldn’t be here and who I hand over to now.

23 October 2010

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