EVENT REVIEW: Virago Live: Can We All be Feminists?

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14th October, 2018

Durham Town Hall

Review by Yanmin Zhuchen

Hayley Camis and Soofiya Andry explored the question, ‘Can We All be Feminists?’, creating a setting for an open discussion on deviant bodies, the need for intersectional feminism and the superpower of listening. 

The event began with a reading by Andry from their contribution to the book, Can We All be Feminists? Using the metaphor of beauty as a state, they delved into the complexities of the private and public policing of bodies. For Andry (and many others), Eurocentric ideals of beauty exist as a place with lots of laws and restrictions – a place of precarious balance which they can only visit as a tourist, but never stay. Their warm tone complemented the uniquely honest perspective on some of the attitudes they have encountered. This set the tone for the event as one that was open, candid and friendly and really allowed the audience to bring some of their own unique perspectives to the discussion. It was particularly interesting to hear about past experiences of women and how they have tried, in their own small yet mighty ways, to create a more empowered narrative within their own lives. 

The discussion flowed easily, with topics ranging from the need for intersectional feminism to the ‘performance’ of mainstream feminism. Both Andry and Camis stressed the importance of doing more than what they referred to as ‘T-shirt feminism’, which is reductive and unlikely to produce such positive results as having a more ‘boots on the ground’ mentality. For Andry, it boils down to one thing: love. Their aim to ‘be the mirrors I didn’t have’ was particularly powerful, as they recount how comforting it would have been to see someone like them accomplish incredible things when they themselves were young. Camis and Andry agreed that knowing you have an army behind you completely shifts your perspective. It’s our fight to be that army – and that’s what they’re doing right now, by offering such a valuable opportunity for discussion at events like these. It is not necessarily the discussion itself but the listening that makes the greatest difference, notes Andry, as they describe the simple act as a ‘superpower’ with the potential to deeply impact a person’s worldview. 

When asked what they imagine for the future in forty years’ time, Andry was pragmatic. In an ideal world, they tell us, there would be no need for feminism. People would feel safe and accepted and loved wherever they went, no matter the time of day. However, they understand that this is a utopian vision. For them, the best scenario is that we are still fighting, still listening and still pursuing that sense of compassion and safety which is so essential to a harmonious and accepting society. 

This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.