March Meeting: Dreams of a 50:50 Parliament.

With the huge balls of politics beginning to gather momentum in the lead up to the election on 7 May we had a couple of wonderful and terribly relevant speakers for March’s meeting. Francis Scott from the 50:50 campaign came to speak about women’s representation in parliament and Councillor Racheal Saunders who is leader of the Labour Group in Mile End came to discuss the political process and the importance of voting.

SSWI show support for the 50:50 Parliament Campaign

Francis Scott kicked us off with a fantastic discussion on her 50:50 Parliament campaign which is trying to raise awareness that only 23% of MPs are women and that we need fairer representation in parliament. The campaign isn’t about proscribing one specific way of achieving the goal of fairer representation and is instead calling for more debate on the matter. However Francis took us through the possible options to increase female representation which included; gender quotas, all women shortlists or two seat constituencies where one seat is for a man and one seat is for a woman (an idea put forward by Tony Benn in the past). Francis gave us the fairly horrifying statistic that if we continue at the same rate we will only attain gender equality in the year 2115, I can’t wait that long guys. If cryogenics doesn’t work then I probably won’t even be a head in a jar by then! So if you think we need a fairer representation of women in politics now and want to debate how we go about doing just that then sign the petition here. You can also follow the campaign on twitter and Facebook.

The leader of the Labour Group in Mile End, Racheal Saunders then lead a conversation on the importance of voting and taking an active part in politics. Racheal spoke about getting in to politics as a women and highlighted the fact that two thirds of people who sign up to join the Labour Party are men. This is down to a whole raft of factors including inherent gender bias in politics generally and the socialisation of women, which means they put themselves forward less than men for senior roles. Rachael also spoke about the necessity for everyone to get involved in politics, explaining that politicians work for the voters and if you aren’t voting then they are less likely to drive forward change that benefits you. This means if you want to see change then you should make sure you’re registered to vote here – you’ve only got until the 20 April.

It was a fantastic meeting and thank you so much to Francis and Racheal for coming to talk to us!

Book Club – Derivative and Inspired

Like you were at the book club but without the cake or the spoilers

WI Girls at Book Club

This month the book club read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, another break from Waters’ previously self-proclaimed pigeonhole of “Victorian lesbo romps” (which is definitely a genre I’d like to see added in Waterstones). And weren’t we all thoroughly disappointed to find out how totally lacking in said Victorian lesbo romps it was: I didn’t go to book club to discuss literature, Goddamn it!

The Little Stranger is a gothic and ghostly tale set in post-war Warwickshire in the dilapidated and slowly crumbling grand country estate of the Ayres family. The occupants of the house are the ethereal widowed lady of the estate and her two grown children. As our narrator, Dr Faraday, becomes gradually more entangled with the lives of the Ayres family, we witness through his account the decline of the house and its inhabitants.

The novel takes a little while to get going, a few book clubbers mentioned getting to the hundred-page mark and still not feeling like anything much had happened. However, once you are into the action it really does become very gripping – we had one book clubber admit to binge reading the book and finishing it at 2am! The gothic style can at times be fairly heavily borrowed from other gothic authors such as Henry James, Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe but it is certainly no less ghostly for all that.

Although many book clubbers did mention how creepy and scary the story is Waters didn’t actually set out to write a ghost story. Being an incredibly thorough researcher she had enough material left over from her research for The Night Watch to fill another entire book so she started this one on the theme of class structures in post-war Britain. It’s a theme that seems to seep through the pages rather than thrust itself too obviously into your face. As a reader you never seem to come to any real conclusions on where she stands on this issue.

Book clubbers had a veritable smorgasbord of views on the ending. With probably about four or five interpretations doing the rounds; from the true supernatural, Freudian projections to deliberate misinformation on the part of our narrator it’s obvious that the ending is somewhat open to interpretation. However no one was unsatisfied with the ending and this seems to be Waters main strength in the gothic genre, she’s happy to keep you guessing and you’re happy to continue guessing.

The next book club is Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham which I’m sure will lead to strident feminist rants all round which I for one cannot ruddy wait for. It’s going to be on Tuesday 20 April, you can check the details in ‘Upcoming Events’. Can’t wait to see all your little faces there!

Blog by Jodie Major for Shoreditch Sisters WI

Piece of Mind

To mark International Women’s Day 2015 Emma Watson, in her role as the face of the HeForShe campaign, gave a sprawling hour long interview on the campaign to Greg James (of all people… so that’s what he looks like). As ever she was an idiosyncratic mix of charming and wonderfully awkward speaking passionately about subjects as diverse as the discrimination in her own life to awkward dates (I hear you Sister) to the negative impact of inequality on men.

HeForShe Logo

If you’re unfamiliar with Watson’s work she is probably most famous for playing Hermione – the one who actually got all of the shit done – in Harry Potter but since last year she has taken on the mantel of UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador which despite being a bit of a mouthful is something we have needed for literally ages already.

Watson opened the interview with such an important point: “gender equality historically has been predominantly a women’s movement for women but I think the impact of gender inequality and how its actually been affecting men hasn’t been addressed.”

Feminism is not a women’s issue: it’s a human one.

If any of us are oppressed or discriminated against then – as a whole – we make up less than the sum of our parts. We have lost the input of those oppressed people, we are dragging them along when they could be helping us carry the load. As Watson says at the very end of the interview by discriminating against women, humanity is a bird flying with one wing clipped – just think how much higher we could fly if both wings were free – a beautifully apt metaphor originating from American Feminist Gloria Steinem.

Watson spoke of the damaging effects on men due to how our society “devalues the she”. By making stereotypically female traits less valuable we devalue everyone who has them regardless of gender. She mentions how truly horrifying she finds the still prevalent expectation that men cannot cry, I think no one says it better than whoever it was that made up that quote that was falsely attributed to Charlotte Bronte; “Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.”

By boxing up parts of the human condition and segregating them by gender we ourselves break apart, we deny the masculine in a woman and the feminine in a man. We are nowhere near as binary as we imagine, we are one very long sliding scale of human nature.

Watson also spoke about the confusion which surrounds the term “feminist”. In what I think is probably the final word on the matter (and something i’m considering having put on a t-shirt) she said “If you believe in equality, you’re a feminist.” Too much of the time the feminist movement is equated with hate, man hating, and it’s not about that at all. It is simply about equality, about having the same opportunities despite your gender.

This campaign is something we have needed for a long time, to stretch that bird analogy just a little further: we can only fly high enough to reach equality if both our wings are free. We need everyone to recognise and stand up to discrimination in whatever shape or form it takes. This could be our first step in learning how to fly.

To watch the full interview check out the HeForShe Facebook page.

Blog by Jodie Major for Shoreditch Sisters WI

Knot Just Knitting

Knot Just Natter
The joy of Knot Just Knitting…

What a lovely wee Knit and Natter we had this month?! Huge table of about twenty of us gorged our way through various criss cross chip things, halloumi wraps, cakes, a whole plethora of hot drinks and a few beers. And the nattering was also a veritable smorgasbord of topics: the valley of despair, laser eye surgery and what happens if you don’t pay (they repossess your eyes #fact), tooting and booting knitwear, so-bad-they’re-good dating events and, like that rotten penny which keeps turning up, tinder (“on the road to friendship all conversations lead to tinder” The Dali Lama said that. Don’t google it. Like, I know he said it ok?).

But now without further ado may I please introduce to you our very first President for the Day: some say she dreams in hula hoops, some say she once saved a man by knitting him back to life, some say she can actually see the Matrix. All I know for sure is she is the one, the only:

MS ABBY O MILLWARD!

Abby-Knitting

President for the Day

Hey! So what are you doing there with the things and the needles and the craft?!

This is a sock that I’m really tired of knitting.

Literally just this minute you have ousted our benevolent leader Martha from the top spot and become President of our fine and upstanding branch of the Women’s Institute! Bloody go you. So I know you have organized an absolutely killer main meeting for this month. I hear it’s being held in an amazing new venue. Where is it?

A really old Chateau in the French countryside.

You walk in and we’ve got ourselves a new bar person! Who is it?

My dad, who’s dead, he’d be a shit barman but I’d like to see him.

In your wild exuberance at finally becoming President you order a round of drinks for everyone. What are we getting?!

Normally I’d go for anything with gin but this time as we are in this beautiful Chateau it’s going to be that dusty old bottle at the back of the cellar – you can have your choice of colour.

Oh wait, shut the front door – looks like this party is catered and what a beautiful spread it has! What are we chowing down on?

I’m really into meze at the moment so lots of halloumi and spanakopita and tzaziki. Yum.

You have managed to wangle an absolutely amazing speaker for us. Who is it and what are they chatting about?

Sir Robert Winston is speaking about the science of women’s bodies – hormones and that.

We have a little break and the dessert trolley is being brought round (yeah we have a dessert trolley now) what’s on it?

A trio of apple and ginger crumble, Eton mess and chocolate fondant.

Time for the second half of the meeting and we are learning a new skill! What’s it going to be?

How to make explosives with everyday items from your kitchen like jelly babies and vinegar.

Fab, so glad I can make sh*t explode now. Time for the raffle! OMFG… you only go and WIN! What is it?!

Lifetime supply of yarn!

So it’s coming to the close of a stellar meeting and you’ve got one piece of advice to pass onto the ladies gathered there before you let them go back into the world. What is it?

When it comes to craft and really anything in life if there is something that needs doing: JFDI.

Just do it.

Woah man, that was deep. Thank you so much for sharing your meeting with us. It’s been totes emosh and amazeballs.

The next Knit and Natter will be held at Leon in Spitalfields Market on Tuesday 14 April. Come along and you too could be discussing tinder!

Blog by Jodie Major for Shoreditch Sisters WI

Badass Woman of the Month: Mary Fields

Mary Fields - Badass Woman of the Month

Mary Fields was born into the bonds of slavery in Hickman County, Tennessee c1830s. These same bonds held her fast until she was thirty years old. She worked on a steamboat on the Mississippi for a time but her story only really starts when she turns up in Cascade, Montana at 50 doing manual labour in a convent. She built a chapel and a schoolhouse before she lost the job after a colleague annoyed that she was black, a woman and earing $2 more than him challenged her to a gunfight and lost.

She opened a restaurant in Cascade but she’d give people food whether they could pay or not so it went bust. She opened another and did the exact same thing. So at the age of 60, realising that maybe she wasn’t made for the restaurant business, she applied for a job with the US Postal Service. Of a dozen applicants she was the fastest to harness six horses to a stagecoach and so became the first black person and only the second woman to work for the US Postal Service. In 1880’s Montana the postal service was a brutal trade: she carried money and expensive parcels through blizzards and heat waves defending herself against outlaws and attacks from the Sioux tribes with just her ten gauge shotgun and her pet eagle. Yeah that’s right: a pet eagle, like I said before: badass. During her ten years’ service she earned the nickname Stagecoach Mary because she never missed a delivery, when the snow was too deep for her horses she would put the mail bag over one arm, her shotgun over the other and just God damn walk the ten miles to deliver the post.

At the turn of the century, she was 70 and having just retired from the postal service she settled down in Cascade. On her birthday the town would close its schools and businesses to celebrate. This usually happened about twice a year because she didn’t know exactly when it was and she bloody well felt like doing it twice a year ok? She would drink in all the bars in town (even after women were prohibited by state law from entering them) and she had a standing bet of five dollars and a glass of whiskey that she could knock out any cowboy in Cascade with a single punch. After three were stupid enough to take the bet and lose no one took it again.

On her death at about 80 her neighbours buried her beneath the Rocky Mountains at the foot of the path that lead to the convent she used to work in and a good friend writing of her said: “born a slave… Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath… or a .38”.

Mary Fields, our Badass Woman of the Month, we salute you.

Blog by Jodie Major for Shoreditch Sisters WI

February’s Meeting: Live Life Love Life

Phew, what a bloody roller coaster ride of emotions this month’s meeting was! Our wonderful speaker made us laugh, she made us cry: mainly however she made herself cry. It was the incredibly inspiring Alexandra Sullivan who gave us a great speech on organ donation. Alexandra is an advocate for Live Life Give Life which is a fantastic charity which tries to raise awareness of organ donation.

Alexandra spoke about her own life as an organ recipient, she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver at the age of two which is the scarring of the liver causing long term damage preventing the liver from working properly. At the age of eight she received her first liver transplant which gave her four years of life before her body began rejecting the organ. At thirteen she was put on the emergency transplant list which is for those presumed to have only 24 to 48 hours left to live. She got the call for her emergency transplant in the early hours of the morning on her father’s birthday and was rushed to hospital. With tears in his eyes her father spoke to her outside the operating theatre, not knowing whether this would be the last time he would see her alive (apparently she took the piss out of him for crying so I guess she really ruined that moment).

On the 6th January 2015 Alexandra celebrated an incredible 21 years since her first transplant. In that time she has got married, had a little boy, celebrated her 30th birthday, learnt to ski, been matron of honour at her best friend’s wedding, opened her own beauty salon, become an Auntie, been in Cosmopolitan magazine – naked, been in a charity calendar – naked, been in German Closer magazine – also naked, run a marathon and only gone and been on Come Dine with Me! She has so much more to achieve: so many more publications to appear naked in!

What Alexandra would like everyone to remember is that these achievements are due to two incredible people who sadly passed away, people whose families’ decided in the toughest hour of their lives – which must have torn them to pieces – to save Alexandra’s life.

Alexandra wants to get as many people to sign the organ donation register as possible and to make sure that if you are on the organ donation register, your family know that this is what you want, so the choice is so much easier for them if it ever needs to be made. Three people die each and every day waiting for an organ. If you want to give other people the chance to survive then sign up now. Don’t put it on your to-do list or say you’ll do it in five minutes: do it now. You never know but signing up now – today – might just have saved someone’s life.

Blog by Jodie Major for Shoreditch Sisters WI

Derivative and Inspired

Like you were at the book club but without the cake or the spoilers

This month Book Clubbers have been reading Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and what a hefty 540 pages it is. So you might want to get this on a kindle but bear in mind it is one of those books that literally infests second hand bookshops: there are so many that they collect in piles in the corners of these shops and harassed charity shop workers have to sweep them out of the doors onto the street at the end of the day. #Truefact. So maybe just buy one of those and tear it up into nice manageable, portable chunks instead?

Allegedly Smith wrote this, her debut novel, at 24 in all those spare little moments she had when studying for her finals at Cambridge. A degree she got a first in by the way, in case you weren’t already curled up in the foetal position crying and facing your own crushing inadequacy…. Just me? Okay… cooool. Cool.

Smith faced a lot of comparisons to Salman Rushdie’s work when this novel was released, something she arguably courted, and she does (at her best) have some strands of the fantastical like Rushdie but sometimes she misjudges the throws and her attempts land slightly more in the absurd. Her use of narratives which echo along the generations is also reminiscent of Rushdie and this style when written well can be hauntingly beautiful but sometimes for Smith it becomes contrived. She seems to have lost her way at times in this book, some narratives seem pointless leaving it slightly flabby and a desperate attempt to tie disparate themes together in the denouement leaves a nagging suspicion of the unsatisfactory about it.

However the story is fundamentally enjoyable: it carries you along easily in the ebb and flow of the characters’ lives and the picture Smith paints of North London is a bright and vivid one. The real successes of the novel, strangely, are all of the incidental characters. Two particularly successful ones are elderly Jamaican men, Denzel and Clarence, who are so vivid you can almost hear their heavily accented insults over their unending domino game in the local greasy spoon. The payoff at the end maybe isn’t as satisfying as it could be but maybe Smith’s work is more about, like, “The Journey” man. Or something?

This book is not perfect but what novel is? What debut novel is for that matter? What debut novel written when you were 24 and studying for your finals at Cambridge which you’ll get a first in is for that matter? *weeps silently*

The next book is The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters which D&I is informed isn’t anywhere near as filthy as Fingersmith: more’s the pity. So on the 23 March we will be gathering at the Long White Cloud on Hackney Road at 7pm for cake, discussions and then probably more cake. See you there!

Blog by Jodie Major for Shoreditch Sisters WI