The Feminist Library: A Short Film

Feminist002

[Poster Art by Ruth Ciara]

*ATTEND THE PREMIERE*

Date: 17th September
Time: 6pm
Location: The Feminist Library
5, Westminster Bridge Road
London SE1 7XW
Tickets: Donations on the door

It took me over a year collecting interviews with a good friend of mine and fellow journalist (though, unlike me, she’s actually a real journalist with a paid job) to get all the footage for this film. When her job got too busy, I took on the rest of the project solo, edited the footage and liaised with women at the library on everything post-production. At times I got severely fed up and wanted to throw it all in the metaphorical rubbish bin of my life, along with the other countless projects I’ve thought up and not followed through with. But the truth is, these women were too good to give up on.

I’d spent too many hours listening to their stories; learning about the Women’s Liberation Movement (the period of history from which much of the Feminist Library’s documentation is from) and realising the enormity of what generations of women have achieved before me. I’d learned too much about what the Library is, and what is stands for, and I cared. I cared deeply. I cared about the fact that, as Alice Wroe put it during our interview, no one had ever told us about these women. No one had ever told me there was a rich inventory of women role-models from the past (and present) that I could draw on. Women who led rich lives and have fascinating stories. No one had ever taught me about the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain, and why it had to happen. No one, absolutely no one, not at primary school, not at secondary school, not even at university – no one put the stories and herstories of women on an equal footing with the stories of men, who coincidentally seemed to fill our textbook pages. No one had ever told me that, 40 years ago, women had to fight for domestic abuse services in Britain. No one told me that women had to struggle to make women’s history and women’s studies a respected and acceptable subject matter at university. Though I had a sliver of awareness about this, no one told me that there were events, many events, and important historic dates (dates that should even be in school history books!) and conferences all about the rights of women which took place around the country during the 1970s and ’80s. No one told me that the first National Women’s Liberation Movement march happened in 1971, that the Equal Pay Act came into force in 1975, and that there was a real and vibrant movement working toward the economic, legal, social, cultural and political independence of women at that time. Crucially, no one told me that this was the legacy I’d inherited as a young Franco-British woman from London. That I’d come from a history of oppression, but that the women who came before me had worked hard to start putting things right. This is the history, the identity and the context I’d been denied no thanks to my culture and education. How could I let this all go?

I made the film.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Feminism, like any movement, is endlessly fascinating, complex, layered, and most important of all, intersectional. No one had told me that, either, but I gained a much greater awareness of this during the making of my film. Many, still today, want to pigeon-hole feminism and feminists into grossly reductionist stereotypes. The amount of times I’ve been cringed at when answering “yes” to the question “are you a feminist?”, and the endless and repeated explanations I’ve had to give (mostly men) about me not being some kind of “man-hating, finger-pointing, reverse-sexist” once I’ve openly identified as a feminist, make for tired and increasingly redundant exchanges. The other question I seem to get, “but is feminism really still relevant?”, makes the education we’ve all been denied as a society painfully and glaringly obvious. But I digress…

The point is, feminism is a multi-issue social movement with an important history. It is also as complex today as the individuals who comprise it. I am a skinny, white, abled, Western, heterosexual, middle class, cisgender woman, which is currently the most privileged experience of ‘woman’ that I can think of. Feminism includes transgender, multi-ethnic, disabled, queer, fat, non-Western, working class perspectives and identities and all of the complex issues and narratives that come with them. I wish my film spoke about these perspectives in more depth. Some of them it doesn’t mention at all. But I’ve made a start. And I hope I’ve managed to show feminism as a rich and complex phenomenon that viewers will take away with them and want to learn more about. And for the feminists who’d never heard of the Feminist Library before, now you know where it is. Give the place a visit. It has given me a community of sisters, and an education.

Happy viewing 🙂

Watch the trailer   => here <=

For more info, and to read more about the film, click  => here <=

11207283_10153694244814594_1286161557327931388_n

All images © Anaïs Charles 2016. All rights reserved.

Advertisements

Ugly

10469689_10153687923259594_2793745243184161732_n

 

I am ugly
See my faked facial expression
contorted into a
smile
my skin red hot with acne
wild
Greasy, unruly hair I haven’t washed
The lighting’s all wrong.
Don’t look at me.
*
See
The dark hair on my upper lip
The bad angle and that double chin
My body shape
Too fat too thin
It’s real.
*
Be
Disgusted by the smell of me
The stains on my dungarees
Blood clotted on my holed
Panties.
*
The stubble on my woman’s leg
My dirty nails
And aching head.
Where does my woman’s value
truly rest
*
I am not fit for your consumption
This body is a heresy
The God of Marketed Beauty bellows
“UGLY”.
Not fit for what you want from me.
Not fit for being touched or seen
I hide away but the magazines
still chide me.
*
I have consumed the taglines
The headlines and the soundbites
“I’m worth it” if I act right
and preen.
*
Why is it that I wasn’t born
photoshopped or waxed like porn
I’m tired and broke and dying
to conform.
*
I am consumed by ugly
My every nook and cranny
Suffers from my abused
self-esteem.
*
I have consumed the taglines
The headlines and the soundbites
It’s time I figured out
What’s really me.

Who Are You?

Who are you?
I burned to the ground
Until all I saw were ashes
And realised
They were not me.

Who are you?
Red hot flames, piercing eyes
Ray upon ray of light

Who are you?
I have died a million deaths
And been brought to the alter of
Truth, again
And again.

Who are you?
I laugh now as Your river
Washes me away
From all I used to know

I gladly watch it go.

Who are you?
I have come for your heart
As your mirror.
Look at me now

Who are you?
I will bring you to your knees
But it is not me
It is not me

Who are you?
A silent cosmic joke
And you will laugh as I do
When you are brought
Before You.

When the dust on your window
Has been blown away
I am the wind
Let me in.
When you rise from the ashes
Like a phoenix in the night
I am the fire
Do not fight it.

“Birthed from Surrender”
I whisper softly…
Here I am
Here I am.

Was it abuse…?

**Trigger Warning**

7ca9eef108abb83766a54b21d314ba03I see a young woman when I close my eyes. She stands on ashes and rubble, her head hangs. She breathes long, deep, exhausted breaths. Her body is covered in gaping wounds. The blood glistens in the light of dwindling flames. And yet she stands tall, breathing, breathing. She fought. She won.

What is abuse? To this day, despite all the conversations I’ve had, the therapy, the articles I’ve read, I don’t know. Intellectually I could tell you that abuse involves regularly punishing, manipulating and violating a person physically, emotionally or psychologically in order to control them. But I struggle inwardly to own this narrative. When I use these words I feel like my story has been co-opted. It has been squeezed into snug little lexical pigeon holes; “abusive relationship” you say? The listener paints their own vague picture of what this means with whatever knowledge they have. And I feel unheard, glossed over, silenced. These are just words. They do not tell you what I feel. They hang a veil over a deeply visceral experience, an oppression felt deep to my core, deep in my cells. A slow suffocation. A drawn-out death that I chose. Yes, I chose. Everyday I chose to stand by a man I loved in full awareness that it wasn’t right. I chose to stay because I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t leave because I felt empty. He completed me as much as I, him. I do not feel like a victim, I was a partner in a toxic dance that broke me.

These words are hard to write. It is difficult to put words to an experience that, at times, feels unspeakable. Such terms do not do justice, either, to the man I knew. I held dear the brilliance, the power and potential that I felt in his heart. Our connection was deep and real and I made it my sole purpose to find a solution to the pain of our relationship. The hours I spent reading books… Watching videos… Attending seminars… Thinking up conversations, or the perfect combination of words set in just the right order that might, just might wake him up… There was nothing I didn’t try. And when nothing worked, I was not defeated. My final option was to change myself – I knew he would either grow with me, or we’d fall apart. I prayed, and prayed, and prayed it would be the former… I prayed on my knees, I prayed while I wept. And of course as perfect providence would have it, it was the latter.

I do not believe this man knows the significance of what happened. My heart cries with the knowledge that he probably never will. I wish I could show him the gift he’s given me, the depth I’ve experienced, and the woman I’ve become. Could he ever know? I think this will remain a sadness with me forever. In the quietness of my heart I hope to show him one day; I hope he will have the eyes with which to see me. And yet, none of this truly matters. He lives now in a sacred place for me, where he will stay.

When I met this man I felt beautiful, free, and open. Though I had not been looking for a relationship, I fell in love hard and fast. The beginning was intense, an overwhelming and utterly consuming experience. This should have been my first red flag, and when I look back I see there were many. But they all passed me by.

I remember the first time it happened; I had forgotten to take his clean clothes out of the washing machine. He stormed into the room and, to my disbelief, exploded into a violent rage. I sat, silenced, shocked and bewildered while he steam rolled into me with disproportionate hate and anger. We’d been together for a couple of months by then, and shared what was for me a life changing intimacy. A tenderness, a joy, and a deep care; emotionally, I felt I’d found my home. Yet I was suddenly at the receiving end of a punishing and brutal diatribe. Over clothes? I couldn’t believe it. Is this for real? I attempted to rationalise with him, which only added fuel to the fire. When he left I curled up on the bed and attempted to absorb what seemed like a totally bizarre experience. He came to lay beside me not long afterward, and held me tight. He told me it was nothing. “How could you do that?” I asked. Ti amo bella, he said, everything’s okay.

But it wasn’t. I had begun to feel ill at ease. A week or so later I made the mistake of putting a metallic object in the microwave. I joked about how silly that was, thinking surely this won’t be an issue. But it was – he exploded again, and stormed around the flat. I was irresponsible, clumsy, anais copy 3disrespectful. Anaïs! I remember how he bellowed my name when I spoke up in defense of how ridiculous he was being. His voice boomed across the flat with controlling authority when I challenged his behaviour; You’re always trying to discuss things! You’re too smart, manipulative! Incapable of admitting you’re wrong! His flatmates heard it all. I would’ve laughed out loud if I hadn’t felt completely humiliated, and spoken to like a child. I remember thinking, I cannot be treated this way, this is ridiculous. This can’t be real.

For my twentieth birthday, he took me to Venice. My heart breaks when I think about how this trip could have been. With the right person it could have been full of fun, joy, and discovery, but to me it felt like purgatory. I had suggested that we get to bed early the night before our day out, which was enough to set him off. You are selfish, egoistic! You think about nobody but yourself! Who do you think you are! If this wasn’t serious, it would be laughable. This was now after months of regular exposure to such abuse, and I had lost the ability to see things clearly. There is a sad transformation of the heart, a deep heaviness that takes up residence when you get used to being verbally battered, trapped and unheard. It clouds everything, and one forgets what a ‘normal’ relationship is or even feels like. At this point, most of my energy was spent trying to avoid the outbursts, obsessing about how to change the situation, and doing everything in my power to downplay what was happening to those around me. I felt humiliated, ashamed of what I had allowed to happen. I couldn’t afford to let people find out.

In Venice I was subdued, nervous and clumsy. He spent the beginning of our trip in a threatening mood, making it clear that if I set one foot astray there would be trouble. When I dropped the top of our bottle of water into the canal he scolded me angrily, protesting vocally about how clumsy I was. 100925 Venice Narrow Canal-1-EditI had become an expert at silencing myself in public, so I said nothing. The rest of the morning continued in the same vein. There are photos of that day in my wardrobe somewhere… Photos that, to anyone else, would seem like we were a happy couple on holiday. But I know differently. I see a young woman in a straight jacket, unable to lift a finger for fear of retribution. In truth, they disgust me. I don’t recognise myself. From her smile to her posture, this woman hides the ball and chain around her neck. I remember the delight when people heard where we’d been, and the intense pressure in my chest when I couldn’t tell them the truth.

I have lost count, and memory, of all the times this happened. A regular pattern of gratuitous & random outbursts of rage and punishment was in full swing by then, and after a few months of this I started losing weight. It was, unconsciously, the only way I knew how to cope. At the time I didn’t 51da8c8a13f3eeven consider that leaving was an option, though I couldn’t admit it to myself. Not eating was the only way I knew how to take up less space. Food became repulsive to me, but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. “You have to eat beba, I want you to be happy, healthy” he would say. It’s only recently that I discovered, in therapy, a buried belief at the core of my anxiety. If I disappear, he won’t see me. He won’t feel threatened. He won’t punish me. When it got bad people began to notice, but I never knew what to say. When my parents freaked out I shut them down. It never got so bad that I had to seek medical support, so I figured I could manage it fine, thank you very much. I got used to force feeding myself just enough to be okay, and until 7 months ago I had actually forgotten what hunger felt like. I have only recently really begun to enjoy food again.

Two of my friends staged an intervention that winter. I sat down with them at a cafe and they admitted they’d been talking and were concerned. “You’re not the same friend we knew a year ago” I remember them saying. I had made the mistake of bringing him along to a social occasion earlier that month (something I quickly learned not to do) and they had noticed something was wrong. I believe they tried to be as diplomatic about it as possible; they knew I’d react badly to being cornered and having my relationship challenged. I am only sorry I couldn’t hear them. Unconsciously, the only message I heard then was that I had failed. Failed to make him stop, failed to manage my relationship, failed to hide the pain.

Though the abuse took up a lot of space, it wasn’t all there was to our relationship. When Mr Hyde wasn’t rearing his head, my partner was loving, tender, sweet and kind. I couldn’t accept that he had issues that would not be overcome. But the penny dropped during the last few months of our relationship. We had been living apart for some time by then, and I believe I was gaining some perspective. My food problem had stopped becoming manageable, and I was no longer able to force feed myself. I was tearful with relief when I decided one day to stop torturing myself with food. It was a relief to stop eating, to finally give in to what I felt. I started wishing that I could disappear, just switch off and end the pain. I remember looking him in the eye and saying “you have to understand what you are doing. I cannot continue like this.” I explained to him why as best I could; he looked at me then with such sadness and confusion. He was never able to admit to his rageful episodes. Until the end, he acted as if they never happened or rationalised them away. Over time his denial of the abuse led me to believe that it was probably nothing. I could not deal with how totally he denied and rejected the effects his behaviour had on me. There was no place for my story. There was no place to be heard. To this day I often struggle with shame when using the word ‘abuse’ to describe what happened. He never hit or beat me; how dare I complain when some women experience a physical violence that is really worthy of the term. I know I will struggle when publishing this blog to stand by what I’ve written. I will want to delete it. I still harbour a deep and persistent desire to deny the experience.

A month before our relationship ended, I told him I wanted to be polyamorous. Polyamory would not have been possible for him without a complete overhaul of the relationship he had with himself. In essence, it was my last attempt to shock him into personal growth. But most significantly, it was my attempt at clawing back my freedom. I still could not bear leaving of my own volition, yet had to escape out of what felt like a death sentence to me. I never once perceived him as abusive, never really believed that he meant it. I saw that the man I loved was hurting. He was hurting so badly that he took it out on me, and I had to do anything in my power to help him. I believed I must 1281946-Lsomehow be guilty, somehow I was bad. I deeply needed to win him over, and felt I had failed when I couldn’t take it anymore. In order to even come close to the realisation that I wasn’t somehow failing, I had to begin loving myself enough to care about what the relationship was doing to me. I was hurting myself badly. I had begun fantasising about cutting my skin open to relieve the tension, and wishing to give my struggle up for a peace I thought I could only find in death. I started therapy before I could entertain any of this much longer, and I think this was my saving grace. Letting go is the hardest thing I’ve had to do, but it has given me the most sacred experience of all.

Self-love isn’t just a commodity to be bought in self-help books. Self-love is a lasting experience of the most precious relationship there is; the relationship to oneself. Falling in love loses all meaning when one finds that the essence of the self is love. Suddenly, there remains nothing but the joy of intimacy, with yourself, with others, with the sacredness of life. There remains much for me to heal, but I bow in gratitude to what I’ve experienced. Without it, I would not have discovered the depths of my heart, its incredible resilience and power. I no longer have to repeat these patterns, as I bring them tenderly to the light of my awareness. There is no longer anything in my way now of pursuing the life I am here to live. I cry as I realise I am free. I am free. I am free.

 

Productive Bodies: Human Worth in the Era of Capitalism

The alarm on my phone rings. 5am. I feel the heaviness in my chest, aching and tender. No mind, I start my early morning ritual of mentally coaxing myself out of bed. And so it goes. “You just need to open one eye. That’s all there is to do, in this moment, right now. Just one eye, and then we can deal with the next moment.” I open one eye, and the second opens automatically with the first. mental-illness-self-portrait-shot-on-black-and-white-filmWhat I see has me cowering back into unconsciousness. My room, my reality… The children need me today. “No… I cannot get through this day”, the heaviness and pain in my chest is overwhelming. I allow myself some moments to breathe, and to believe that if I wanted to, I could stay here today – safe in this warmth, this warmth. I start sliding back into sleep. “No. You are going to school.” I protest inwardly “I’m not needed there…”. But the voice gets firmer, “You are going to school. You have a relationship with these children, a connection that is important to both of you. They feel safe with you. Besides, the teachers need you, and you need to complete your training.” But the argument isn’t compelling enough. “Why live with this pain…” I struggle for some time, desperately grasping at something, anything that will give me the courage I need to face this day. And then, “If you don’t do something today, you will have failed.” My attention peaks. “If you don’t go to school today you will be unprofessional, unreliable. Worthless. As if they want you there anyway. You are not valuable to them. Prove yourself.” This voice I can’t ignore. I inwardly breathe a sigh of relief. We’re getting somewhere! I look at the time – it’s 5:30am. “Ok, good. We haven’t gone over today. Now all you need to do is sit up. You can sit up. You’ll be able to take the warmth with you – put your blue blanket over your shoulders…” I sit up, “that’s right. Well done…” I feel relieved, emotional, grateful. I can do it! I can do this day.

Thankfully these periods do not last – and though they take all my inner strength to get through, they are not debilitating. I am also blessed with the support I need to heal – and, crucially, I can work. Many in the UK struggle with mental health and are able to lead economically ‘productive’ lives – but many more coming from a range of situations need financial support. Indeed 5.1 million ‘working age’ individuals were benefit claimants in August 2014, yet the government has cut close to £20 billion from projected welfare spending in the last five years and Conservatives are considering plans to cut a further £12 billion by 2018 in order to reduce the nation’s economic deficit. Let’s be under no illusions: according to the parties who would slash these benefits, those who do not contribute productively to society are a burden. This stance is reinforced by a media and political narrative which is vicious and punishing; those on benefits are chided and threatened lest they fail to declare all their earnings. And yet, corporations such as Google, Facebook, Starbucks and Amazon reportedly paid a meager £30million in taxes over the last four years despite UK sales of more than £3.1bn. What justice is this?

A paradigm that would have us stigmatised and divided is a paradigm to be unpacked. When we are left having to justify why we are worthy of security and abundance, we have bought the lie that our lives are not inherently valuable. And why is that? If money buys our basic human needs, anigif_enhanced-8515-1405714237-23money buys life. One must earn a living, and the right to live fulfilled. Food banks, depression, addiction, homelessness, starvation, economic slavery, suffering, stigmatisation, discrimination, criminalisation, shame, poverty, exhaustion, oppression, abuse and death are all possible fates for those of us unable to comply by this model. A dear friend and brilliant writer spells it out in her post The Human Cost of Demonisation: “I find I have internalised the slurs; there’s an insidious little Voice of the Daily Mail in my head, chastising me if I am up later than 8am, constantly sneering how worthless and parasitic I am.” And so, she must prove herself worthy.

These people are classed as unproductive, but what exactly are ‘unproductive bodies’? Unproductive bodies are seen to have no ‘economic value’. They are seen to contribute little or nothing to GDP, and to take from or even be a burden on the nation’s purse. They are often lumped into abject categories: addicts, benefit claimants, the disabled, the elderly, the homeless, travellers, ‘criminals’, ‘immigrants’, those seen to be overweight, those suffering from mental health issues, childbearing and menstruating women… Categories that are, amongst others, the most guilty of ‘unproductivity’. Unproductive bodies often share various characteristics: they are lazy, hysterical, undisciplined, scrounging, dirty, weak, difficult, burdensome, dangerous, psychotic or in some way defective. They need to be kept away in prisons, hospitals, detention centers, and undermined by stigma to remind us all of our place: if we fail as economically productive members of society, we fall from grace. And we fall hard.

Productive bodies, on the other hand, contribute to GDP and are therefore economically viable and American_Dream_Just_add_moneyvaluable. These bodies are declared successful, worthy and glorified in cultural myths such as the American Dream or the UK’s austerity-backed Big Society – the productive body is your shining ticket to personal financial security, fulfilment and happiness. If we look deeper at what the logic of the productive body implies, however, we uncover the more horrifying trends of political thinking from the turn of the 20th century. Eugenicist Margaret Sanger wrote in 1922: “… the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.” The judgement of individuals as defective is a judgement of human life as less than, as unworthy, and ultimately becomes a question of life and death.

Examples of this can be found bursting forth from behind the veil of rhetoric and political propaganda. The wider reaches of our thinking about productive bodies are serious, murderous and entirely real. Hundreds if not thousands of vulnerable people have died being declared fit for work by Atos’s Work Capability Assessments after they were introduced in 2008; documented accounts explain individuals starving to death when their benefits were removed. Others committed suicide when faced with the stress of being officially declared ‘fit for work’, despite suffering from severe and debilitating mental health issues. Still more died of health related issueschartoftheday_3413_migrant_deaths_are_soaring_in_the_mediterranean_n after being forced back into the workplace despite not being well enough to handle the pressure. Last year 3,500 more vulnerable people died in the Mediterranean seeking asylum from conflict & repression in the Middle East and Africa. This year the figure has already risen to 1,600, but Britain’s response has been to refuse committing to Operation Triton’s rescue operations. Why? A score of unexamined judgements about the worthiness of human life has laid the foundations for the policies of a Europe at war with people. These judgements hail the productive body as a body qualified to enter our borders – the body of the Other, if unable to fit the needs of the British or European workplace, becomes a ‘problem’ as dehumanised as our economy. The life of the refugee is buried under a debate that has lost sight of the sacredness of human life.

The examples don’t stop there. Women are still being discriminated against for not being economically productive during pregnancy, childbirth and childcare. The elderly suffer heavily from inadequate funding due to austerity, with 40% cuts to local councils leaving “hundreds of thousands struggling with basic tasks”. I could go on. Perhaps it is time to begin constructing a new paradigm. Perhaps it is time we perceived the body for what it truly is – life itself; to be honoured, to be respected, to be deeply understood. These themes are worth the kind of real and in depth exploration that goes far beyond the scope of a blog article… And demands a deep and serious commitment to human life.

As I lay in bed with menstrual cramps having called in sick last minute – again – I can’t help but worry. What does my manager think? Are they writing me off as unprofessional? Will this affect my recommendation? I am made to feel guilty for honouring the needs of my temporarily unproductive body. I am angry that my stillness could have negative consequences for myself and my future, and I cannot relax for the stress. But thank God, I think to myself, thank God this pain only lasts a day.

human_life_by_photshopmaniac-d2ra4tf

The Beauty Myth

A war has been waged on women
It’s silent, but defeating.
They say worth is found in beauty
And for it we’re competing.
If you’ve got it you’re a threat
(Careful of that intellect)
Yet without it, take my heeding
You are small and unappealing.
Grieve, sisters, we’ve been tricked
By the consumerist machine
To believe we are worth shit
Without their standard glossy preen.

10422915_744914092259185_85404833061137241_n

 

Photography: Mauricio Valverde Arce, from The Goddess Circle