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Meet: The First Young Feminist Group in London

I heard in the Twitterverse that fourth wave feminism was landing in London, and naturally wanted to be there to see it.

What this entailed was hanging out in a dodgy building in Southwark on Sunday night for the launch of Young Feminists London, the first group of its kind in the city.

The location was sort of perfect; a decrepit chair collection, wallpaper peeling off around us en masse, and various attire for sale that allows you to wear your protest (“I am woman, hear me roar”). You could imagine daydream that Gloria Steinem moved in similar spaces in her definitive years.

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Sadly, Gloria couldn’t attend. But in her place was a truly impressive lineup of speakers and performers. They including feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite (her identity preference is “radical, cunt-welding patriarchy smasher”), and up-and-comer comedian Elf Lyons, who shared intimate stories of sexual rejection (“nobody will finger me because, as I’ve been six foot from the age of ten, they can’t reach”).

Besides the chuckles and free cupcakes, the night had a clear mission — “to reach anyone on their feminism journey…whether you’re a Miley Cyrus or a Germaine Greer”. according to 23 year old founder, Rosie Lucas.

“We set this up because we’d all looked individually for places where all kinds of feminism was accepted, and we couldn’t find anywhere like that,” she told me.

Diversity is also a big concern for the organisers. “We wanted to have somewhere men felt they could listen and learn about feminism, and where lots of different women from different backgrounds and experiences could all be heard.”

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Variety was clearly demonstrated in the opinions and prescribed feminisms of the guest speakers. While No More Page 3 founder Lucy-Anne Holmes began her speech with an anecdote of masturbating to porn on her laptop, Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans of Resist Porn Culture informed all the female smut watchers in the room are “victims of false consciousness” in believing that it turns them on.

As a woman who found a voice in second-wave 1970’s feminism, it was no surprise that she went a little Marx-y on us; but when she exclaimed “there’s a wimpiness going on, because in the 70’s we were really liberated!” I did feel slightly patronised. When I asked her opinion about feminist porn, she said she’s never heard of it.

That being said, everyone there and particularly the duckling feminists probably benefitted from being in a safe space for discourse among women. Several women I spoke to enjoyed Brunskell-Evans’ presentation.

“Hearing stories from different opinions I don’t share and experiences I haven’t had was the best part of the night for me,” said Romy Minko, a student at Royal Holloway who came from Egham just for the event.

Some women even came away learning about something new and horrific they hadn’t heard of before.

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“No More Page 3 hit home for me; we don’t have that where I’m from and I feel sick thinking about the young girls I know seeing it in their family newspaper and thinking that is how they should look,” said Madeline Trachta who, as an American, had been protected from The Sun until she moved to the UK for university.

Despite all the positivity to come from YFL, they have a huge mountain to climb in representing diversity; I none of the speakers were there to discuss feminism from the perspective of any gender besides “female”. Only four people of colour were at the opening, one of whom was invited speaker Ama Josephine Budge of feminist periodical HYSTERIA collective.

Budge performed her beautiful spoken word piece, “Your Ass Be Spread (And Other Feminisms)”, which itself hits on multiple intersections of race, gender, and public vs. private space in ways which would be missed by anyone listening who doesn’t know that mainstream feminism has, in simple terms, a diversity problem. (For the record, as a white feminist I don’t presume to think I’ve mastered understanding her poem).

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“I am happy to be invited; I know that these introductory conversations about feminism need to be had, but I personally moved on from those a long time ago,” Budge told me.

As she’s mixed race, Budge says she’s often asked to mediate between “well-meaning” young white people and their frustrated black peers.

“How can I represent all people of colour? I don’t even want to, it’s insulting to think I could. But a lot of groups that intent to be inclusive are simply ticking the ethnic box and moving on, not making an effort to invite in a large number of people of colour who could then speak for themselves”.

The reasons why young women need their own feminist organisations are so numerous they’re not worth listing. In a turn of sheer irony, as I mingled at the event a bloke followed me on Twitter who only posts pictures of finger-spread vulvas, with promises of more if I pay him. It wasn’t clear how he had acquired the photos, or if the women consented to his “business plan”.

But with little to no discussion of LGBTQI issues in the performance lineup, and a clear lack in ethnic diversity, YFL has a lot to address as it moved forward.

As a new group, the best thing YFL can do next is to make sure diversity of colour and gender are part of the core group of organisers, and that sometimes the white women will have to do what we always ask of our male allies; to make space, shut up, and really listen.

Words by Charlotte Lait

Charlotte Lait is a British multimedia journalist and freelance production assistant. She has worked in broadcast and online news in London, New York and Chicago at international networks including NBC and the BBC. She cut her reporting teeth writing for investigative mag The Chicago Reporter. Charlotte covers gender, sexuality, religion and politics. View her work at charlottelait.com and tweets @charlottelait.

  • Lydia

    Hi Charlotte, thanks for coming, we’re glad you enjoyed the event! We’ll keep you posted on our next one.
    We just want to correct you on one thing, we’re actually do have some diversity as a group – Amanda is Iranian and identifies as a person of colour, Rosie is bisexual and I’m a lesbian. We weren’t thinking about diversity when we invited Ama, just that she was a great poet. Now we’ve done our first event and know people are interested, expanding the group and increasing our diversity of members and programming is a core focus. We gave everyone postits so they could tell us what mattered to them going forward. Intersectionality and a range of speakers came up and we’ll endeavour to fulfil that. If you have any contacts that could be helpful, please do let us know!