Archive for the ‘FEMINISM’ Category

Rebel Girls: the (written) lives of Vita Sackville-West and Viv Albertine


Vita and Viv: what polar opposites. One born into immense wealth and privilege, blessed with an unhealthy arrogance, unblinkingly forging her own path on her own terms, the other brought up without money or connections, lacking in self-confidence, but equally determined to make her mark on the world and stay true to herself. Both pioneers of their age. Vita could never be her true self in public while Viv lived in boundary-smashing times. The age of punk was also a time of squats, art colleges and student grants, when living on the dole while honing your art or music or simply personal style was a viable, nay commendable, lifestyle choice.

I have to say Viv is the more sympathetic character of the two – Vita reminded me of Vivienne Westwood, who Viv describes as “scary, for the reason any truthful, plain-talking person is scary – she exposes you… She’s uncompromising in every way: what she says, what she stands for, what she expects from you and how she dresses.” That could just as easily have been written about Vita.

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Social anxiety and the not-so-swinging 60s in Agatha Christie and Miss Read

One of the best things about the Agatha Christie and Miss Read novels set in the 1960s is they give a fascinating insight into how that decade must have felt for the older generation. All we ever seem to hear about is how groovy and liberated the ’60s were – how the ‘youthquake’ was such an exciting time for young people – but to those of middle age and older who lived through at least one world war, it must have been a disorientating, bewildering time.

Christie and Read convey this with power and precision, perhaps because they were of that generation, and it’s a rare and welcome alternative view of the so-called swinging ’60s that we don’t often encounter.

Agatha Christie uses the massive social upheavals of the ’60s as a handy plot device – people aren’t always who they seem, so many records were destroyed during the war that a young woman turning up in a village with a small child can say she’s a widow who’s husband died in battle – but is she? Equally, that cantankerous old colonel tells a convincingly tedious tale of his years in India, but is he the real deal?

Without the system of recommendation that used to be the glue that held society together – a letter from an aunt to the local vicar, someone’s godfather vouching for a young man’s credentials etc – identity becomes a slippery concept and one that can be used and abused.


The traditional English village that defines the Miss Marple stories is intact, but there’s a council estate on its outskirts and young girls in mini skirts pushing prams jostle the old maids on the pavements. Teddy boys loiter on corners and there’s a pervasive sense of anxiety, of connections being broken and histories lost.

There’s a definite sense of ambivalence in Agatha Christie’s writing when confronting the modern age. She mourns the passing of old structures and systems and the comforting familiarity they offered – swept away with the enthusiasm of zealous youth and replaced with… what exactly? In Christie’s mind, a vacuum is a dangerous thing.

But Miss Read (or Dora Saint as she was in real life) is more pragmatic about change. Her Fairacre and Thrush Green novels also chart the passing of life in quiet rural communities and again the massive social upheavals of the ’60s make themselves felt. The traditions of the country calendar continue – harvest festival, the annual village outing to the seaside, the WI’s summer fete – but advances in agriculture mean the young men of the area no longer work for the farmer, but travel to the nearby nuclear power plant everyday instead.


She is a realist, not overly sentimental about the vanishing past. She points out that the children no longer arrive at the village school with Victorian ailments such as chilblains and mumps – their diets are better, their homes have central heating and indoor plumbing, they are stronger and healthier. Those olde worlde thatched cottages might look picturesque but they too often concealed damp, bad sanitation and serious deprivation and hunger.

My love of these novels feeds into a greater passion for the work of women writers of the twentieth century. Domestic fiction (sneering phrase) doesn’t get much credit but in my opinion if you want a real insight into the soul of a period and its people you’ll read the stuff written by women about everyday life.

It’s human sized. They notice stuff, like the difference between veg in a new suburb (small, pale, withered) compared to what you find in a country village, or how unbelievably difficult it was for a lone teacher to manage a class of 50 or even 60 children. It’s these tiny domestic details – seemingly unimportant ‘wallpaper’ that is far from being trivial, but reveals so much.

Oh and finally, these two writers are also good for showing that spinsterhood need not be regarded as a lonely, frustrating fate worse than death, but rather as a liberating, fulfilling state. So THERE!

Win a copy of The Well of Loneliness

CD1603 The Well of Loneliness COVER AW.inddThe reissue of Radclyffe Hall’s seminal lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness (£9.99, Hesperus Classics) is one of our March picks on our book blog over at Twin magazine. We have three copies of this new edition to give away so for your chance to win one, just email your name and address to [email protected] and we will pick three winners at random!

WOW on the Southbank // International Day of the Girl

Friday 11 October marked the third International Day of the Girl. The team behind the Southbank Centre’s WOW (Women of the World) Festival celebrated the occasion by hosting an early morning speed-mentoring session on the nearby London Eye, connecting mentors from a range of professional backgrounds with school-aged mentees. The first WOW Festival was in 2011 and it’s happened each year since then, celebrating the achievements of girls and women over a long weekend of talks, debates, discussions and ideas-sharing to coincide with International Women’s Day in March.

I got involved in the event after I attended a planning meeting (‘think-in’!) and talk by ridiculously inspiring SC Artistic Director Jude Kelly for next year’s WOW Festival. A few weeks after the meeting I was emailed with a speed-mentoring invitation to which I immediately replied YES.

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Kathryn Ferguson Pushes Back At Sexist Pop Promos With Rear Guard

I was really excited to be asked to work with Kathryn Ferguson on her new film, Rear Guard, which just went live on ShowStudio last week. It is a response to the most recent crop of depressingly predictable ‘sexy’ (hollow laugh) music videos which have come out this year. In her film, which sits within ShowStudio’s ‘Punk’ section, Kathryn takes the tired old tropes that we’ve become so used to seeing – scantily clad women dancing in slow motion – and subverts the scene to make her point.

I love working with Kathryn because she has opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them in an industry where often it’s just so much easier to keep quiet – for fear of losing out on work, or being ridiculed and bullied on social media – you can be attacked for being ‘a prude’ or for ‘getting feminism wrong’. The people I really respect are the ones who have the courage to speak up and actually create work that tries to change the status quo, rather than just whining about it on Twitter.

I also worked with Kathryn on her last film, Four-tell, which was made to celebrate International Women’s Day and featured Zaha Hadid, Bella Freud, Sharmadean Reid and Caryn Franklin and you can read all about that here.

Tell us what you think of Rear Guard and my accompanying essay on Twitter @Kath_Ferguson and @PhoebeFrangoul


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