I miss being an academic. I miss the talks and lectures, I miss panel discussions and I miss thought-provoking, engaging topics about subjects that really interest me. N and I ventured down to the Southbank Centre with our day passes for the Women of the World (WOW) festival which is a not only a celebration of feminism but also a deeper look into what it means to be a woman in today’s society.
First up, we hit the intriguingly titled talk titled “Sex and Sensibilities” featuring a very accomplished panel including Zoe Margolis of Girl with a One Track Mind, Katherine Hoyle, founder of Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium and Sam Roddick, the founder of Coco de Mer, a very upscale and lovely lingerie and sex toy shop. The panel tackled the difference in sexuality between women and men and asked the question “why is it acceptable for men to talk about sex and masturbation while for women both topics tend to be taboo?” There was also the sentiment that sexual education in schools needed a massive revamp–rather than scaremongering, schools needed to go into the emotions behind sex and what sex actually means. I particularly enjoyed the debate on who was having “better sex”, men or women, and what that meant. Very interesting discussion indeed.
Next, we watched another panel, this one titled “Ain’t I A Woman” and focusing on feminism in black women. I’ll shamelessly admit, I chose to go to this talk because of the quote by bell hooks in the description: “When black people are talked about the focus tends to be on black men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women.” I’m a massive fan of bell hooks and even had the privilege to meet her while I was in college as she was the Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies while I was there. hooks’s quote was a major topic of discussion between journalist Miki Turner; Kieran Yates, author of Generation Vexed; Shirley Tate, author of Black Beauty: Aesthetics, Stylization, Politics and musician and Grammy Award-winner Angelique Kidjo. Their talk and, sometimes debate, looked at where black women fit into both society and into feminism whilst also touching on pop culture and the Rihanna-effect. N and I both enjoyed this one a lot and agreed that we could have listened to Angelique talk all night long without complaint!
Finally, the last talk we sat for was the one I’d actually booked the day pass for in the first place–Ruby Wax: Out Of Her Mind. I’d never actually seen American Ruby Wax in anything before, had never even heard the name, but I saw the description of her talk on the WOW website and thought it sounded like it would really resonate for both N and I. Come to find out N actually knew who she was and liked her–bonus! Anyhow, I think the WOW website sums up Wax’s talk best in their synopsis:
The legendary writer, comedienne, interviewer and documentary-maker led her audience through the bittersweet ups and downs of mental illness, its stigmas, and the freedom discovered when you share life’s darkest moments.
Out Of Her Mind breaks the rules of theatre, and touches on envy, fame, television, the insatiable drive to win, getting rich, getting the perfect body, marriage, kids, careers, and, above all, staying busy while looking like you’re having a nice day.
At some point in our lives, one in four of us will be affected by mental illness. This acerbic and honest show saw Ruby bring her distinctive wit and worldly wisdom to tell how she is one of those people.
Ruby Wax was beyond brilliant. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time and I haven’t felt that touched emotionally in even longer. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty right now about how and why her talk brought me to tears… that’s another post for another day… but let me just say that I was truly inspired.
If you have a spare minute, check out Ruby Wax’s TED Talk from last year–it’s the best ten minutes you’ll spend at your computer today, guaranteed.