My name is Catherine and I’m a radical feminist. I love women’s spaces, I love being in the company of women and I love debates about feminism.
I became aware of, and involved in feminism in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the second wave had reached it’s peak. The events around that time were radical in their approach and often consisted of a very DIY approach to organising. Despite this, there was a sense of sisterhood and safety that I felt at home in.
Women’s conferences and events seemed to disappear in the 90’s and feminism became the code word for angry, second wave dykes who burned their bras and hated men. Liberal feminism was never for me really. I’m not a feminist who thinks every woman’s choice is a feminist choice, and I’m not the type who thinks men should be involved in the movement. Far from it actually. For me, men have no role in the liberation of women.
This weekends North East Feminist Gathering in Newcastle was an eclectic muddle of noise; laughter, anger, tears and cheering. It was a riot of colour and sound with a workshop line up that met the needs of every woman there.
The NEFG team had just lost a much loved and valued member of their team and watching them put their grief aside to ensure the event went well was awe inspiring. The resilience and warmth coming from those women filled the room and kept the energy levels buzzing.
I spent much of the first day either close to, or in tears. Emotion was never far from the surface and it didn’t take much for it to bubble over. It took me a while to work out where that was all coming from and I finally realised that it was relief.
Relief at being with women I trusted.
Relief at being in a safe space.
Relief at being able to be me and for that to be ok.
Relief at being able to relax and not have to watch my back, my behaviour or my drink.
It was a reminder to me of the value of women only spaces. The value of just being with women, which is often overlooked and undermined. Dismissing women only spaces as exclusive, or unnecessary, or divisive is just another way of trying to prevent us from sharing experiences and speaking out. Keeping women apart means abuse continues in secret. The need for women’s spaces to debate issues that matter to us is hugely important. In a women’s space you can share experiences and emotions and feel safe. In a women’s space you can opt in, opt out, cry, scream and make connections with other women that last a lifetime. Or five minutes.
I felt a strong sense of loss as I drove away from Newcastle, having been in the company of women who are working to make a difference. I met women who were politically opposite to me, women who campaign on issues that I disagree with, women who represented every aspect of feminism. There were traditional feminists; the hairy, man hating ones, women in full make up and heels and women who disagreed on a number of issues. But all of them debated and argued respectfully and there was an implicit agreement that, as women, we will support each other anyway.
I will take away from this weekend the feeling of safety, a feeling of belonging and a feeling of intense connection.
Thank you to the NEFG team for their hard work, commitment and passion.
You made a difference. Not just to me, but to over a hundred other women who’s lives have been altered for the better because of this weekend.
I can’t wait for next year.