WARNING: Nothing to do with Foot-the-Ball
There can’t be many feminist celebratory festivals where massive, colourful and garish hats are not only pertinent, but are almost obligatory. Welcome to Matchwomen’s Festival 2014, where you can make and wear your own thanks to the onsite official event Milliner! Entirely gender non-specific and wonderful to see, as adult and child alike wandered around in their really rather impressive creations. The Match Women defied the rigid Victorian gender and class stereotypes and refused to be submissive, and this meant in sartorial presentation, as well as personality, strength, wit, decorum, and alcohol consumption. This did not endear them to those in power or to anyone above them in status (which was pretty much everybody), as you can imagine. And so, the tone was set for the day. Although not with regard to alcohol consumption, and I’m fairly sure there were no actual fist-fights at this festival.
This was me for most of the day:
I had what I consider to be the best job of the day, greeting attendees as they arrived, ticking their names of my list, taking money from those who hadn’t paid the exorbitant fee of £4 (double what you would have paid if you pre-booked, free for children), and generally having a right old laugh. Attendees came from all over the place, including two from Turkey who had found out about the event through the International Feminist Network. I even got recognised by one of the speakers, Sukhwant Dhaliwal, although neither of us could l work out why she knew my name… I am going to assume it is because of my fabulousness.
The talks were through the doors right opposite me, and organiser Louise Raw (author of Striking A Light! The Bryant and May Matchwomen and their Place in History- yes I own it and yes OF COURSE I got her to sign it!) made sure I attended at least half. I do love me a good socialise with like-minded folk, so being on the door and talking 20 to the dozen to everyone was fine by me. She is now aware that this will be an annual event and I will be on the door for each one. She may be unaware that she has no choice in the matter, though.
After briefly helping set up (I stuck bits of paper to a board with pins, put some leaflets on tables and mooched a bit) people began arriving and my job of “not scaring people away and not talking TOO much” began. I could hear the words of the song especially written for the Festival by Tina McEvitt through the door, and the tone was set. Fun, knowledge, discussion, debate and global enlightenment was the order of the day!
There were three people on what I like to call the ‘menu of delights’ that made me internally squee with pleasure, for I had heard of them and followed two of them on twitter (which would later lead to a pants-squirmingly embarrassing incident, in my eyes anyway). Kate Hardie (former actor, now writer and director), Caroline Criado-Perez (activist and writer, led the successful campaign to have non-royal women featured on British bank notes) and Laurie Penny (author, journalist, activist). Those were my definites, but the smorgasboard of choice proved hard to narrow down, so I ended up flitting hither and thither, relieved by Phil Prestianni at regular intervals (oi, dirty people, he was was co-doorstewarding with me).
I had intended to interview Diana Johnson MP for an article for Jump! Magazine, but it was not to be as she was door-stopped by the BBC as she came in. Apparently her day job had something happening; well she is Shadow Minister for Crime & Security and I do believe a famous person had been jailed the day before for getting a bit handy with underage girls. I did manage to catch her talk on the legacy of the Match Women and her role in winning the parliamentary debate to recognise this. The Match Women inspired Union action from 1888, including the Dockworker’s strike of the following year, which history tends to ignore. What a shock eh? The Dockworkers at the time acknowledged it, but now you have to fight to get the recognition they deserve!
As people arrived I grew more gregarious and teasing, but according to Louise people were reporting that I was sweet and funny, so I think I got away with it. Apart from big-upping working class women, unions, the Match Women in particular and all women in general, we were to have been privileged to hear from Eam Rin, Cambodian trade unionist on the frontline. Politics stepped in, as it is wont to do, and her visa was denied two days before the big day. Iona Kelly, from Labour Behind The Label, stepped in, and a very interesting, enlightening and disturbing discussion took place. What we wear comes at the price of death, disability and blood in more ways than we realise.
Often one speaker would lead into another, and feed off what had been said. Intersectionality, global solidarity and understanding, and occasional heated disagreement arose, but never disrespectful and always inspiring. That seemed to me to be the enduring gift of the day; to educate and to inspire.
By the end of the day, I had harrassed as many incomers as I though would arrive, but then more speakers turned up. I got tongue-tied – Kate Hardie, I know her off the telly! Laurie Penny – I know her off the twitter and guardian! Kate Hardie I ended up having long discussions with, about writing, feminism, our learning curves into our current politicial statuses and so on. Laurie Penny I called PennyRed as she entered. That is her twitter account handle. I am embarrassed to this very moment. She did not mind at all.
Ms Hardie’s film “Shoot Me!” was a funny and fascinating look at image, and photography of women, in particular the experiences of female actors for whom image is important in roles they play, but when being photographed themselves the experience can be painful. I regret being unable to tell Ms Hardie how shocking I found the experience depicted; the mental violence and emotional abusiveness of the photographer and studio was totally unexpected. Maybe she’ll read this… one can hope!
By then end of the day I was physically flat-lining (damn you, disabled body!) but mentally could not have been more uplifted. Laurie Penny was our last speaker, and the group had developed into a friendly supportive discussion between friends. It was a personal talk, which resonated strongly with every single person there. Yes, of course I asked a question. I even gave a bit of advice to a nervous attendee within the context of the discussion, for which she thanked me afterwards! It wasn’t unasked for or unwarranted, don’t fret dear reader. I promise you it was contextually appropriate.
I don’t think I have ever been to a symposium where such a discussion has happened before, and all credit must go to the support provided by NUT who provided the venue, and the organiser Louise and her team for creating the atmosphere through inspired choice of speakers and events throughout the day. All children present had also seemed to enjoy the day, especially the colouring competition, but had left by this time as 11 am to 9 pm is a VERY long day. I for one had a sense of optimism about the future – not only in recognition and solidarity with those who attended this fantastic event, but also in concrete steps I could take in the move towards intersectional equality worldwide.
I did not join those who went to the pub after (damn you, disabled body!) but it felt like I had been socialising with friends-I-just-met all day. This MUST be an annual event! It happened last year, and I am gutted to have missed it as Tony Benn gave a talk and Bob Crow attended (fingers crossed for this year’s speakers and attendees. Lawks I hope I don’t regret that joke!), so Louise is on notice – this must happen again and I must steward.
And when it does, you must come along. I shall leave you with some fairly fuzzy photos to tempt you (my camera doesn’t like dim light at a distance, and I was stewarding a lot of the day). I neither confirm nor deny now also owning a book signed by Laurie Penny as a result of the joyous day. (CONFIRMCONFIRMCONFIRM!!! femicrush moment. Moving on…) So come along. You’ll love it. I promise!
Do come next year, you hear?