March 8th is the annual International Women’s Day, celebrated globally. Since its beginnings in the 1900s IWD grown in its mission to celebrate the unity of women, females and girls around the world, whilst at the same time advocating gender parity. Some ask whether we still need such a day, but when you consider that illiteracy, employment, violence and poverty all limit women harder than men, it’s startlingly clear that we do. But IWD isn’t just about raising awareness about the bad – it’s all about celebrating the good. Artists, politicians, scientists, mothers, friends, activists – women have played all of these roles, and continue to do so.
Folkestone’s creative hub will be marking the event with a whole host of events that demonstrate harmony, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action – through the creative angle. This year’s theme is ‘#BeBoldForChange’ and the Quarterhouse programme embraces this. February and March are packed with films, talks, workshops and events that inspire and demonstrate the power and potential of women.
On February 11th Hollie McNish, poet, writer and performer spoke about and read from her latest book, Nobody Told Me, stories and poetry about motherhood. She is completely convinced that we still need feminism, and sees creativity as playing a bit part in this. ‘I think creativity really is one of the best parts of humanity…and often brings out the structural and political issues I think and makes them easy to engage with in so many different ways. Hearing midwives say they’ve snuck my poems into hospital wards is probably the current highlight!’
Motherhood clearly changes things for women, and through their sessions the Motherhood & Identity Project are seeking personal testimonies and autobiographical exploration of what this might look and feel like through physical, social, or political aspects through workshops and an exhibition at The Brewery. It seems that even in an age where choice is apparently celebrated, that choice only counts when it is career orientated.
As Catherine from the project says ‘There is a certain boldness in claiming public space for women with babies on their hips and noisy messy small children to be welcomed in and to have their ideas heard. So much potential is lost when we treat women in this stage of life as only caregivers, or only value their contributions when they leave their family elsewhere.’
Ethnicity and nationality are also in the spotlight. In The Diary of a Hounslow Girl on Mar 29th, by Ambreen Razia with Black Theatre Live shows the experiences and challenges of growing up amongst the city temptations as a 16 year old Muslim girl. Comedian Bridget Christie’s acclaimed show Because You Asked For It (Mar 31st) challenges us to think about what leaving the EU means – all through humour and a bold female voice.
It’s not just gender that plays a role – age, ethnicity and social class all impact and diversify the lives of women. Boss(y) Girls is for and by young women aged 13 to 25 who are passionate about empowerment and speaking out. Their workshops offer the opportunity to talk, design, create, meet like-minded people and have fun. Inspired by Beyoncé’s words, ‘I’m not Bossy, I’m the Boss’ boldness infiltrates every part of the project. As founder Emma says ‘this project is all about teaching young women to be bold, and that you don’t just have to accept things the way they are – you can change them.’ ‘Guerilla girl action’ is on the agenda, where the team will be sharing the outputs from their collaborative sessions.
At the other end of the age spectrum, but not necessarily issues, Older Women Rock! is an innovative project run and devised by Leah Thorne, whose work explores identity and liberation. They’ll be combining visual arts, poetry and vintage clothing to raise awareness and explore issues that face women in their mid-50s to early 70s. As well as a pop-up shop and exhibition at the Space Gallery, a panel discussion on Mar 11th, a debate with the founders of the iconic magazine Spare Rib, the Women Over 50 Film Festival (Mar 1st), screenings of Carrie Greenham’s Home (Feb 22nd) and Stories from the She-Punks (Mar 8th) they host the brilliant Profanity Embroidery Group on Mar 5th for an embroidery session to stich not frills and flowers, but controversial but necessary phrases on and in their clothes.
Subverting stereotypes through a ‘feminine’ activity sounds like a brilliant twist, and Professor Julia Twigg, Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at the University of Kent and a huge advocate of the work says that such activities are ‘vital’ to women. ‘I certainly want to endorse the responses of women to dress that are bold, whether through the wildness of their dress, or through their refusal to be bothered by it. I think we need each other to be bold.’
Entrenched attitudes are not easy to shift. But creativity can help us think about and challenge these patterns, and give everyone the confidence to do so as part of such a collective event. From boldness great change can come. It certainly will be coming out of Folkestone this spring.