As I’m slowly but surely writing the sequel to The Breathing Ghosts, I’m looking for ways to make my characters feel more rounded, three-dimensional and relatable. I’m also coming across a lot of events and happenings that make me think ‘Oh, Camille would love that!’ or, ‘I can see Rowan enjoying this!’ etc. As a result, I’ve come up with the idea of exploring what some of my own favourite characters would do if they had ‘a day off.’ i.e. a day purely for them, to indulge in whatever they fancy. I’m going to call this run of posts the ‘Day Off’ series, and there should be one each month. In honour of July’s Character of the Month, I’ve called upon life-long feminist, campaigner and academic Camille Whittaker to give me her itinerary.
The feminist movement is currently experiencing a tidal wave of interest within many areas of culture, literature and politics- and quite rightly so. Organizations such as the London Feminist Network, Object (campaigning against the objectification of women) and the Feminist Majority in the US work hard to make sure that women’s voices are heard. As a result, there are some fantastic workshops, events, gatherings, protests and marches that I can see Camille marching along to. If you’re not into the idea of women feeling empowered, alive and safe within their communities, best to stop reading, because now that Camille has scheduled her day off she’s ready to take on the patriarchy, one slice of cake at a time…
After half-an hour vainly trying to tame her long, unruly hair, Camille gives up the battle, hops into the shower and gets dressed in something bright, flowy and floral. (She loves flowers.) After rummaging around in the fridge and finding nothing but an old avocado and some dubious-at-best tuna, she goes to Patisserie Valerie and buys a slice of chocolate cake. (Camille also loves chocolate.) She sips a latte and tries to look thoughtful and otherworldly, but fails due to the smudge of chocolate cake around her mouth and the straggle of hair across her forehead.
Image is by Tony Hall on Flickr, and Creative Commons licensed for commercial reproduction
“There’s a bar of chocolate in the glove compartment, too,” Camille added. “I always have one stashed somewhere, just in case I’ve had a bad day. It’s probably best if you eat something, even if you don’t feel like it.”
Rowan opened the glove compartment again, and after rummaging about in a sea of tissues, gum wrappers and spare coins, hauled out the biggest bar of chocolate she had ever seen. Rowan looked at the mammoth bar, and then at Camille. “Sometimes I have very bad days,” Camille explained. – Excerpt from The Breathing Ghosts, copyright Eleanor Keane.
Image of cake is Creative Commons licensed for commercial reproduction, from Foodista on Flickr
After copious amounts of coffee (and more chocolate) Camille toddles on down to Grade II-listed Persephone Books- www.persephonebooks.co.uk- in Bloomsbury. (Nearest Tube: Russell Square.) Here, she browses the shelves and indulges in a beautifully-bound version of a no-doubt fiery feminist polemic. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, or Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch? Both would be equally at home on her shelves. This independent bookshop delights in bringing new life to old classics.
Persephone Books logo is from cottontown.org
Or alternatively, she could visit the Feminist Library (www.thefeministlibrary.co.uk- nearest Tube Lambeth North.) She would enjoy talking to the wonderfully ardent feminist volunteers there about their amazing collection of flyers, posters and pamphlets from the good ol’ days of the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Image is from Ladyfest 10 on Facebook (advertising a past event, unfortunately!)
The Library itself also regularly holds workshops, meetings, talks and book sales.) Camille would no doubt love them and their impressive collection of feminist rag Spare Rib, which in its heyday tackled subjects such as equal pay, child care and sexuality. She would also browse their collection of zines, flyers and badges.
Image from feministlibrary.co.uk
For more feminist and free-thinking reading, why not try:
–Sexual Politics by Kate Millett (also of course the book that Camille throws at Bert Wintergrave during an argument)
–The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
–The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
–Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem
–The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (a dark and fabulous collection of short stories based on fairytales)
–And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
-For all the women-loving (and even man-loving) women-supporting men out there: A Guy’s Guide to Feminism by Michael Kimmel and Michael Kauffman, Guyville, also by Michael Kimmel, and Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph
–Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam
–The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyard
–Feminism-Art-Theory, edited by Hilary Robinson
-Also check out some rad zines and magazines: Bitch, Bust, (both magazines) Adventures in Menstruating (for body-positive period talk) Girls Get Busy, Cherry Bomb, Radix etc.
At some point in the day Camille puts the books down and buys herself fresh flowers and a pair of ridiculously dangly earrings.
Leaving behind books and archives, Camille goes to an internet café and checks out pictures of current feminist protests. (It’s not all bra-burning and hairy underarms you know: http://www.flickr.com/photos/52729520@N03) She checks her emails and then spends an extraordinary amount of time surfing pictures of cute cats in teeny tiny wool jumpers. (http://www.roflcat.com/)
Image from deprimafc.com (via Google)
If she gets a spare moment between surfing feminist websites, eating chocolate and wandering around Bloomsbury trying to look erudite, Camille would like to write a letter to her local MP about the press’s lack of responsibility and the continuing objectification of women on Page 3. To do the same, go to www.object.org.uk to look at their MP-submission letter, and make a stand against needless and outdated sexism. If that’s not enough for all you go-getting gung-ho girl activists, go to http://www.everydaymediasexism.org.uk/ and report your own cases and experiences of sexism in the media.
Bruce sighed and got to his feet, pulling Camille up with him. She gave him a lopsided, apologetic smile, but then stumbled slightly in his arms.
“Are you sure you’re okay to walk?” he asked her. Now it was Camille who looked indignant. “I’m fine!” she cried, then hesitated as she felt her sore wrists. A little of her old vigour found its way back into her voice.
“Well…as fine as I can be, given the circumstances,” she said quickly. “Women before me braved prison and hunger strikes for what they believed in, and I’m not going to give in just because some prissy vampire’s locked me up. I refuse to-”
“Oh, alright, alright!” Thora said hurriedly. “Let’s just get a move on, shall we?”
“Okay,” Camille muttered. –Excerpt from The Breathing Ghosts, copyright Eleanor Keane.
On the 10th of July, London-based feminist organization UK Feminista is hosting a film screening of Tender, created by young people to confront issues surrounding domestic violence. There will be free popcorn and a Q&A with the film makers themselves. (See: http://ukfeminista.org.uk/events/tender-film-screening/ for more info.) Camille herself would rent out a few movies and have a film day with her god-daughter Rowan. She’s hurriedly jotted down a few suggestions for me (they appear to be on a Patisserie Valerie napkin):
– The First Wives Club- in which a group of belittled divorcees, including Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn, learn the true meaning of ‘girl power’. It’s funny, quirky and uplifting. It also even has a wonderful cameo by the equally wonderful Gloria Steinem- founder of feminist Ms. magazine, lifelong activist and campaigner against Playboy.
Image from getthemoviez.com
Youtube trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AI5OgeZt020
– Made in Dagenham, for a view on feminism in the Sixties
– Now Voyager, in which (one-woman powerhouse) Bette Davis transforms from a frumpy, demeaned, shy wallflower into a passionate, romantic and self-assured woman. (Also known as Bette Davis, of course.)
– The online clips from the short film Women Art Revolution! are also cool, and focus on the pioneering (and oh-so-fun) efforts of the Guerrilla Girls, art-loving revolutionaries who dress up in gorilla costumes and generally cause amazing havoc in the name of equality, feminist and women’s empowerment. See here: http://womenartrevolution.com/clips.php
– Also watch videos on real women activists kicking up a storm: http://www.youtube.com/ukfeminista Truly inspiring.
At some point, Camille buys more Post-it notes, lined paper and highlighters. Whilst in WH Smith she also succumbs to buying a notebook with a picture of a kitty in a teeny tiny woollen hat on it. She uses it to practice writing an inaugural lecture on literature, feminism, LGBT rights- or perhaps even a novel called The Breathing Ghosts…
Image from Google (apologies for the lack of credit!)
…[Camille] sat opposite Rowan, barely visible behind a stack of books, paper and an industrial amount of Post-it notes. She had one long ream of paper stretched out in front of her, already covered in cramped, handwritten notes. A laptop was propped open next to her, humming gently… Excerpt from The Breathing Ghosts, copyright Eleanor Keane.
Camille never takes life too seriously. (Apart from where women’s rights are concerned, of course.) On her list of things to enjoy is a night of live comedy, especially feminist in theme. Comedian Kate Smurthwaite will hosting her own show, The News at Kate, as part of the What The Frock! Comedy night. She’ll be playing in Bristol at the Wardrobe Theatre on the 10th of July (see-http://katesmurthwaite.eventbrite.com/ for info on tickets.)
…The fridge door was plastered with leaflets for women’s events, workshops, and feminist bumper stickers. [Rowan] straightened a magnet that read ‘I’ll Be a Post-Feminist in the Post-Patriarchy’, and sat back down at the table. -Excerpt from The Breathing Ghosts, copyright Eleanor Keane.
Camille rings up Gabriel Bruce and invites him for a stroll along the Southbank. They walk arm in arm and talk for hours about little things. After a while, they start to hold hands without realizing it. At various points Camille mentions phrases like ‘Oh, it’s all down to a patriarchal conspiracy’, and ‘Women have the power!’ Bruce nods solemnly in agreement, then notices Camille’s kitten notebook poking out of her ‘Feminist Library’ tote bag. Camille blushes and shoves the notebook deeper into her bag.
Feminist Library tote bag via feministlibrary.co.uk (available for you to buy too!)
Camille’s dancing days may be behind her (‘Only just!’ she reminds me) but there are plenty of riot-grrl influenced club nights where you can still shake your thaanng and free your mind. My favourite is Unskinny Bop (http://www.unskinnybop.co.uk/bop/1) a place for ‘girls, gays and misfits’ of all shapes and sizes to get up and get down. The next Unskinny Bop is on the 19th of July at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. Dance, disco and be merry, just also make sure you drink responsibly and get home safely like any wise feminist J
After one too many Schloers, and buoyed up by an industrial amount of chocolate, Camille and Bruce decide to throw an impromptu dinner party. Camille invites all her (of course fabulous and fierce) women friends and Bruce drags along Rowan. By the end of the night, Bruce’s tie is askew, everyone is wearing paper party hats and Camille is wearing Rowan’s velvet scarf.
If you’d like to throw your own feminist dinner party, Camille suggests that you wear outrageously colourful clothes, drink your favourite drinks, (mine is hot chocolate with marshmallows) and tell each other of at least one woman you admire and feel inspired by. It could be groundbreaking rule-shattering feminists like Ms. Steinem, Germaine Greer, Kate Millett or Betty Friedan, or it could be your mum, your sister or your daughter. Write down your definition of feminism on a coloured Post-it note, and pass it around with a big plate of sweets- and more chocolate. Or, alternatively, head on down to Pogo Café in Hackney on the 26th July for feminist discussion, debates on pornography and yummy vegan food. (http://www.pogocafe.co.uk/2010/07/feminism-awareness-night-26th-july/)
Whether you’re in the UK, the USA or further abroad it’s easy, awesome and fun to channel Camille and embrace your feminist side. Here are a few tips:
-If you’re a student, join your University or college’s women’s group, or if they don’t have one, create one!
-Support the efforts of organizations such as Feminist Majority Foundation, Feminist Fightback and Object (among others) by checking out their online manifestos and publicity
-Organize a cake/bake sale and give the proceeds to women’s charities or feminist organizations as detailed above
-Research feminist and subversive artists such as Monica Sjoo, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus and Kara Walker. Go to exhibitions of art by women artists, or set up your own. Paint, draw, sketch, doodle, sew and create banners that depict your idea of the modern, empowered woman. Read the anthology Feminism-Art-Theory for more ideas.
-Share your views and opinions on feminist forums and chat rooms- but be safe, people, and use the Internet wisely!
-Volunteer for a women’s charity (or any kind of charity)
-If you’re feeling brave, organise a debate or discussion at your Uni/college/town hall/church/general meeting room and bring along open minds, thought-provoking reading material, photos of feminists and other women who inspire you, chocolate, cookies and felt tip pens. Laugh, talk and write down everyone’s experiences of sexism/ empowerment/harassment/activism/frustration. Discuss what you could do to end sexism and help other women in need.
-Meditate and visualise an end to violence against women
-Organize or join a rally or picket against violence against women (Organizations such as Reclaim the Night do marches every year all across London, and there are international events for Women’s Day in March.)
-Join in a live webinar for successful and inspirational women in business and around the world: http://www.inspirationalwomenconnecting.com/live-webinars/
-Talk to your mother, friends, sister/s, brother/s, cousins and relatives about what feminism means to them or what it could mean for you.
-See if your local library/college/school can put up a display of inspirational, mythical or historical women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, (suffragette) Amelia Earhart (pilot) Sacagawea (Native American figurehead) or Aphrodite, goddess of love.
Image from Wikimedia Commons