Sunday was International Women’s Day. And so the dreaded F word was bandied about more than usual. I know how unpopular the word is these days, not least among young women. My own teenager daughter rolls her eyes and sneers at anything describing itself as “feminist”, including (if not especially) her own mother. But I am a feminist. Of the old school variety. My “issue,” to use another unpleasant term, is nothing more than the desire for a fair shake. Let me have a go. I may succeed. I may fail. But give me the chance. And you know what, I get that chance. All the time. The only person who tells me “no” is myself, usually from lack of will or outright laziness. But feminism today (my version anyway) isn’t about trying to get more for myself. I am an embarrassment of riches. It is about getting a fair deal for all the others. The girls affected by FGM and child marriage and rape as a weapon and honor killings and lack of education and beatings and….oh where does it stop? I don’t know. What I do know is that organizations like PlanUK work to end child marriage. And celebrations like International Women’s Day and grass roots activism like FemmeFierce remind us of our responsibilities. In the most amazingly fun, very cool, thoughtful, inclusive, gorgeous and just plain fantastic way possible.
Sunday, FemmeFierce, a movement started by the inspirational Ayaan Binksy (or so she is known), a woman who definitely has a go at life, took over Leake Street, the official name of the graffiti filled road under Waterloo Station. 150 street writers from around the world came. Mostly women, but several men too. And I was delighted to see them there. Hey, you can’t change the world with only half the population. Interestingly, their work tended to be the more political, with themes of anti-violence and bravery of Malala. The women produced everything…from the hauntingly beautiful, but terrifying anti-FGM message to flamboyant tag names and sexy portraits. And humour. Lots and lots of humor. My youngest child particularly loved the one of school girls with spray cans. The headline read “School is over Girls….Reload!” and a handwritten sign was taped to the wall “Please don’t tell my Mum I’m not at school.” Perhaps it was the overload of spray paint fumes, but the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Street writing, by its very nature, tends to be a solitary activity. But this was a festival of creativity, a celebration of humanity. Complete with a hip hop and can rattling soundtrack.
The morning began at 8. All the walls were painted over in the light blue of PlanUK, for which FemmeFierce was raising awareness and encouraging donations. Children were more than welcome. My Katherine grabbed a roller and started her public art career. As the artists chose their spaces and waited for the blue to dry, they were more than willing to chat. A police officer wandered down to admire the work. He told me he often comes along to check out the new pieces. Later kids, or “the new generation”, were encouraged to try their hand at some spraying. Mine eagerly joined in, to varying results. Artists worked throughout the day, chatted with each other and patiently answered questions about their work and where they came form and all the general nosiness of an interested public. Stereotypes were checked at the staircase. Not a pair of dungarees in sight. Instead I saw heels and skirts and lacy underwear. Multiple earrings and nose piercings and fabulous wild hair. Some girls seemed barely out of their teens, others much older. One man spent much of the day holding his tow headed toddler in one arm while using a paintbrush with the other. All were very agreeable to having their photographs taken, and at times there seemed to be more photographers than artists. Many of younger women had no links to social media at all, shrugging off all suggestions that this was the norm. Refreshingly reassuring that not everything is thinly disguised self-promotion. Comforting to learn that sometimes self-expression is just that.
And through it all Ayaan, the organizer, glided, being affectionately called to or hugged every few minutes. Beautiful and charming, she gives that impression of effortlessness that the truly driven and determined often do. I am quite sure that hours and hours and hours of tedious, frustrating, hard work went into making this event come together so smoothly. Yet she almost had me believing she did nothing more than make a wish and snap her fingers twice. That she simply stated her intention out loud and the universe responded “as you wish.” I love people like this.
And of course I love London. A city that has a tunnel where street artists can come from all over the world and create things to honour women, to remind of us those in trouble, in pain, in fear, to invite us to look at the world in a new way, to make us laugh or just say “wow, that is terrific.” Well done FemmeFierce.
I returned to the Vaults on Monday, hoping to enjoy the space in quiet. It was quiet, but I wasn’t alone. Several photographers were still there, capturing these images that won’t last. I don’t know how long it will take until it is all painted over again. That is the nature of graffiti afterall. And maybe that sets me up for the perfect analogy. Days like International Women’s Day and projects like FemmeFierce are important. Because they are fleeting. Reminding us that life is precious and needs to be protected. Throughout the world.
For more information about PlanUK and its life-changing work, please visit: http://www.plan-uk.org
For more photos from the day visit: https://www.facebook.com/FemmeFierceEvents