Womanity Festival: 'The perfect way to celebrate International Women’s Day'
Christina Robinson reviews Womanity, an exciting evening of performances, workshops, and debates curated by Oxfordshire charity the Young Women’s Music Project. The festival took place on 8th March 2017 at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.
I arrived at the Pitt Rivers Museum an hour before the start of Womanity, an Oxford-based festival curated by the Young Women’s Music Project. Within five minutes, simply overhearing conversations in the green room about transgender equality and acceptance in the workplace made it clear to me that there was some heated discussion to be had at this year’s event. Zahra and her team of young women were hard at work preparing. It was hard to believe that these girls were only sixteen to eighteen years of age. Their hard work and determination were inspiring to me.
The event started at 5pm and as history has shown us, revolution starts with the sound of the drums. Zahra and her Team Drum were a group of confident and proud young women marching around the Pitt Rivers Museum with drums strapped to their chest like weapons. But these weapons were not used in any way to threaten an audience, rather to summon their attention with the percussion. I felt a shiver of pride as I watched. It would be hard to feel anything other than pride - they really were fantastic. I grab one of the young performers afterwards and ask her how it felt to walk around the Pitt Rivers performing to an unbriefed audience. Tolani, aged seventeen, expresses a feeling of joy and fun-filled fear. Then Zahra appeared and rounded up her drummer troops back into the greenroom like a mother hen.
Zahra Tehrani started the Young Women’s Music Project and its festival, Womanity, in 2013, with the aim of creating a safe space away from violence in schools, where girls could make music. I remember the violence that went on in The Oxford Academy Secondary School very well. Perhaps that’s the reason why I don’t miss being back there. Zahra tells me that her aim is to create a forum where young women can have their voices heard about issues that affect their lives and the world around them, and can do something productive about it with their music-making. I have been involved with the Young Women’s Music Project since the age of sixteen, and can attest to the importance of this space.
After seeing and hearing the drummers at Womanity, I stumbled into a workshop that My Normal were leading, titled ‘The Transgender movement and Feminism’. My Normal are an organisation for young people that again strive to create a space where it is okay ‘to be who you are and to just have fun’. The questions being asked in this workshop included: What does feminism want to achieve? What do transgender people want? What is a woman?
We were told to go off into small groups to discuss these questions and attempt to answer them. There was so much diversity of opinion in my group that we never got past the first question! The best thing about this was hearing the many different opinions from people from many different walks of life. What brought us all together was that we were all sitting in that room wanting to learn and to understand things that we may have struggled to get to grips with before. Personally I had never once even considered what transgender equality meant and what I could do in this field.
Next I popped into a discussion session called 6 Women, led by UnderConstruction Theatre. The workshop was about living as a female in Britain today, and discussed six different topics that most people identifying as female would have experienced in their lives. Having arrived late, I only managed to discuss two of these topics. The first question was about beauty and ugliness, asking whether it was okay to be ugly in the public eye. For me this question seemed inappropriate and irrelevant - because beauty doesn’t only exist in superficial aspects of appearance like facial features or in a specific body size. The other topic that I heard discussed was pregnancy and abortion laws in America. Despite knowing little about this it was still interesting to hear the opinions of older women, and I felt honoured to be amongst them.
The types of topics that were discussed highlighted for me the fact that despite the existence of projects like Young Women’s Music Project, My Normal, and 6 Women, young people still feel the need to hide or feel ashamed about who they are. Shouldn’t our generation be the one that finally accepts people for who they are and embraces the diversity within humankind? Will it this ever be achieved, or is it an ever ongoing mission? These are questions I find myself asking in talks like these.
The final talk I attended was ‘How Men Hate Women: The Diary of a Recovering Misogynist’, given by John Gohari, a HipHop and Spoken Word artist, social activist and youth empowerment advocate. He explained at the beginning of his talk that he didn’t have a speech prepared, but was just going to talk. Despite this risky approach, his talk was a wonderfully intense performance - engaging, awakening, and at times, uncomfortable (as hearing the truth often seems to be!). It was as though someone had finally said all the things being thought but never said out loud.
Then it was time for the live performances. Zahra and her Team Drum kicked off with a second performance just as powerful as the first. You could see that every one of the drummers was really having fun, pounding away at their drums to create rhythm and atmosphere. Next we heard the singer Orchid. Her voice was angelic and I found her music peacefully strange, creating the bliss one feels when being lost in a beautiful city. Afterwards came Candy Says - Oxford's ‘lo-fi chic pop band’”. They were amazing, delivering bitter speeches between each of their songs about their personal lives and politics alike. Each speech related to their songs and I found this immensely amusing and humanising. It was the first time I have ever experienced a performer really connecting with an audience like this.
Attending Womanity was enjoyable, empowering, and educational all in one evening. On the way home from the Pitt Rivers Museum, I felt as though my mind had been opened to so many different and valuable perspectives. I had learned never to belittle someone else’s opinions or lifestyle simply because I might not agree with it, and to accept the fact that everyone’s life will be different to mine. In my opinion, it was the perfect way to celebrate International Women’s Day.