Creative Sensemaker: International Women’s Day
To mark the occasion, the women of Tortoise Media share their favourite works of feminist art and culture
By Liz Moseley
Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.
There are vanishingly few interesting things to be said about International Women’s Day, particularly in the last few years. The whole IWD thing has gone… well, it’s all a bit ‘bake sale’ isn’t it? Call me a pessimist, but you can’t smash the patriarchy with a cupcake. And this year, thanks to COVID-19, there won’t even be any cupcakes.
It’s the ‘celebration’ vibe I take exception to, because being a proper feminist is, I’m afraid, awful. It’s a cult. It lures you in with uplifting anthems and great memes, then forces you through a cruel epiphany about ceaseless unpaid care work and the constant threat of violence and that’s that. You’re trapped.
The terrible effects of inequality are everywhere you look, the news is always bad and the job is never done. Before you know it, you’re one of Those Women boring on about the same thing again and again to men who pretend to care. ‘Nobody likes a feminist’ would make an excellent meme, and I will definitely make it one as soon as I find out how.
I have had fun while doing feminism exactly twice in my life. The first time was the Women’s March in London.
The key to good feminist marching is to manoeuvre your way into a cluster of noisy lesbians in order to get access to the best picnics, booze and singing. Professional marchers will also have pre-identified pub loos en route, which is critical. The Women’s March became a sort of perambulating women-only Live Aid. The heart-stirring sound of thousands of women’s voices singing ‘Something Inside So Strong’, brought to you by falafel wraps and pre-mixed cans of gin and tonic. Glorious.
The second (and final) time I ever had actual feminist fun was at the Women’s Equality Party Conference in 2018. Outside what looked like a 1980s sixth form college building, a few thousand feminists huddled around a lone pizza van under leaden Kettering skies.
After the panel discussions and keynote speeches and whatnot were over, us die-hards gathered in the ‘function suit’. The decor was straight out of Cheapest Ever Weddings; the bar was staffed by people’s teenage offspring, and the music was courtesy of someone’s iPhone plugged into a speaker playing a ‘Feminist Anthems’ playlist. They literally couldn’t have made less effort.
Then, the singing started. ‘What’s Up?’ by 4 Non Blondes and ‘Go Your Own Way’ by Fleetwood Mac are standout memories, as was the moment a woman who must have been in her seventies whirled over to me on the dancefloor and shouted over ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ by Christina Aguilera (ft. Lil’ Kim), ‘You and your girlfriend look so perfect together!’
Thing was, we weren’t together together – at least not then. That’s benign feminist witchcraft right there. The pure, unbridled joy of a hundred women making a bloody great din, laughing and dancing so hard for six solid hours cannot be underestimated. In the minibus back to the hotel, 12 complete strangers instinctively nailed the harmonies to the Pitch Perfect soundtrack.
These two moments aside, it remains the case that feminism will never be big fun because there is too much grim work to be done. But that’s not to say that we can’t help ourselves to plenty of slices of feminist cultural joy. The work of a female artist, especially (but not only) if she achieves commercial and/ or critical success, is always worth a mini feminist fist bump, because we can be sure it was 10 times harder for her than it would have been for a man. All of which means that feminist art doesn’t even have to be about feminism, and it certainly doesn’t have to feel like hard work. Mariah Carey wrote what is widely accepted to be the best Christmas song of all time, and I’m hereby officially claiming that as a victory for feminist art.
More apt recommendations for IWD might be Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me, which is deliciously funny as well as gratifyingly relatable. In Audre Lorde’s Your Silence Will Not Protect You, the essay called ‘The Erotic As Power’ will not fail to move your soul in the gentlest and most gorgeous way. Taylor Swift’s ‘The Man’ is as sharp and catchy as it’s possible for a pop song to be.
But when the thanklessness of feminism has ground me down to nothing, I always turn to country music to bring my fight back. Have a go at ‘Gaslighter’ by The Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks), ‘Diane’ by Cam, ‘One Blade Shy Of A Sharp Edge’ and ‘Ford Econoline’ by Nanci Griffith.
Open the windows and sing it loud. As our foremothers have shown us, you can’t make a difference without making a noise. Oh alright then, happy IWD.
To mark International Women’s Day 2021, the women of Team Tortoise have shared their own favourite works of feminist art and culture. You can read the full list here.
Take care, and best wishes.
Editor and Partner