Roxane Gay: the “Bad Feminist” and LGBT+ Icon
January 30 2021
With our first Virtual Book Club approaching, Julie gives us a little intro into Roxane Gay’s book of essays……
The UK LGBT+ History Month is coming up in February with the theme of ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’. The overall aim of LGBT+ History Month is to promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public.
This is done by increasing the visibility of the LGBT+ people, their history, lives and their experiences; raising awareness and advancing education on matters affecting the LGBT+ community; working to make educational and other institutions safe spaces for all LGBT+ communities and by promoting the welfare of LGBT+ people, and by ensuring that the education system recognises and enables LGBT+ people to achieve their full potential, so they contribute fully to society and lead fulfilled lives, thus benefiting society as a result.
WAND is launching a programme of online events in 2021, and for our first Book Club in February we have selected Roxane Gay as our author.
Roxane is an American writer, professor, editor and social commentator. She is also bisexual and much of her written work deals with the analysis and deconstruction of feminist and racial issues through the lens of her personal experiences with issue of race, gender identity and sexuality. We will read her collection of essays in ‘Bad Feminist’, a New York Times best seller where Roxane writes about politics, the state of feminism today and her own personal evolution and experiences.
The book is split into 5 sections: in part 1 Roxane writes about her identity as a black woman. Part 2 focusses on issues of gender, equality and sexual violence referencing modern culture such as Sweet Valley High, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Girls among others. In this section she also writes about LGBT+ rights and ongoing discrimination experienced by LGBT+ people.
Part 3 covers race and entertainment, critiquing such films as Django Unchained, 12 Years A Slave and The Help. In Part 4, the essays connect the subjects of gender, race and politics. The final section comprises of two essays which act as a conclusion to Roxane’s belief that she is a ‘Bad Feminist’ – she believes in gender equality but does not always feel allied to ‘mainstream’ feminism.
It’s not even about feminism per se, it’s about humanity and empathyRoxane Gay
In a 2014 interview with Time Magazine, Roxane explained her role as a feminist and how it has influenced her writing and said “in each of these essays, I’m very much trying to show how feminism influences my life for better or worse. It just shows what it’s like to move through the world as a woman. It’s not even about feminism per se, it’s about humanity and empathy”.
Roxane has also won multiple awards for her writing – in 2015, she was named winner of PEN USA’s Freedom to Write award, a prize that goes to individuals who have “demonstrated exceptional courage in the defence of free expression”.
Our first book club meeting is on 17th February and we look forward to welcoming you all to discuss these wonderful, thought-provoking essays. You can find more information and sign up here.
Julie, WAND committee member
Introducing the Shine Project
21 January 2021
This year, WAND has chosen to fundraise for the Shine Project. Here Anne Clarkson from Shine introduces their amazing work…
In 2006 a student on her gap year was working as an outreach youth worker for young people on the Townsend Estate. She met a girl of 13 who had had an abortion and been given the contraceptive implant. This experience inspired her to put together a course for young teenage girls, helping to improve self-esteem and confidence therefore reducing the level of risky behaviour that young people would engage in.
13 years on The Shine Project has developed using student steering groups and service user feedback into a comprehensive course, covering areas in physical and mental health whilst retaining its focus on teenage girls. Shine currently has 28 schools and youth work organisations on its books and runs 18 courses per year and large-scale health and wellbeing events.
Through the provision of an 8-week course Shine provides students the opportunity to explore subjects closely related to their physical and mental health, in small groups of up to 12 people. The course covers areas in self-acceptance, flaws of the media, healthy relationships, positive communication, respect, bullying, management of social media, healthy eating, the benefits of exercise, management of strong emotions and identifying skills, talents, and aspirations. Each session is between 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours and includes practical activities ranging from self-care to role play, arts and crafts, mindfulness, and exercise classes. All activities have been carefully selected to encourage the students to build friendships, embed the knowledge gained in discussion times, help the students engage in activities promoting their physical and mental health and/or build healthy coping mechanisms developing their emotional resilience.
Shine also runs health and wellbeing events. This larger scale event is designed to inspire the students to think positively about themselves, encourage good physical and mental health and signpost the varied supportive resources available to them. On average there are over 20 different charities and organisations with stands and 4-5 workshops for the students to partake in. In February 2019 we had an amazing inspirational speaker talking about the challenges of trekking across the artic, included workshops in dance and exercise, a choir and skincare advice. Each year has been successful with over 300 students attending from 16 different schools across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. We hope to continue once restrictions are lifted.
The Shine Project provides early intervention support for female students aged 11-14 regardless of race, religion or economic background. Our young people come from all walks of life, we work in schools in poor socio-economic areas and in Grammar schools, schools for young people with learning disabilities or schools that have young people that have been excluded from mainstream education. What is obvious to us is that no one group is immune to the ever-growing mental health issues that our young people are facing. Poor mental health may manifest in different ways according to the groups but it appears to be an ever present and growing concern.
Having worked with over 2000 students over the last 13 years, the Shine Project workers have witnessed a steady increase in mental health issues, most specifically in anxiety and depression. Many of the partners we work with are also extremely concerned. According to the Department of Education more than one in three teen girls suffer from anxiety or depression. The students themselves tell us that they feel immense pressure both in how they appear and how they achieve academically. Low levels of wellbeing in young people means they can become socially isolated, academic standards fall; they are less likely to pursue their goals. The risk of self-harm, eating disorders and substance abuse increases. All of these symptoms can mean that a young person will not be able to achieve their full potential moving forward into adulthood, and for some it begins a lifetime of poor physical and mental health.
We are now starting to see the impact of a worldwide pandemic on our young people’s physical and mental health. Physically young people are not able to engage in their usual sport activities, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. Mentally, so far in Shine we have seen anxiety levels increase. Young people have been scared by the thought of loved ones dying or threat to their own safety, they have retreated into themselves becoming less socially confident and increasing their social media usage dramatically. Fear can have a powerful effect on a young mind, and we think the outworkings of this pandemic on young people’s mental health will be seen for many years to come. Shine now offers both online courses and socially distanced courses to help as an early intervention which gives them the opportunity to explore their concerns in a safe space, helping them to rebuild their confidence and start again.
“At the beginning of Shine, I was quiet. Now I feel more sociable, I am more out there and able to have fun. My teachers said that at the beginning of the school year I was quiet but now I contribute more in class and am more confident.”Shine Online student
Using data and the written and verbal feedback from Shine students, teachers, youth workers, parents, and carers we can evidence that the Shine course helps students to:
• Understand the value of themselves and others
• Build new friendships
• Recognise their skills, talents, and unique beauty
• Improve their knowledge and implement healthy habits around food and exercise
• Communicate effectively
• Believe in their own decision making
• Increase their confidence and happiness
In addition to these immediate benefits they have been given the knowledge of good practice for maintaining positive levels of wellbeing. This includes implementing healthy coping mechanisms and an awareness of emotional resilience. A final report highlights areas of development for each student that can be taken on by our partner organisations to help support each student moving forward. The Shine course offers an immediate support to those experiencing the early signs of poor physical or mental health, but the effects can have a long-term positive impact on that young person helping them to become emotionally and physically stronger.
The demand for Shine is increasing. Many of our partners see The Shine Project as a crucial preventative service for students that would otherwise receive no intervention until their situation had seriously deteriorated. With the support of WAND, we will be able to continue to offer these vulnerable young women the opportunity to attend Shine and develop the skillsets and resources to maintain good physical and mental health, providing a firm foundation with which to achieve a successful and happy future.
Anne Clarkson – Lead Co-ordinator of the Shine Project
Visit the Shine Project website to learn more about their work.
A welcome from the Chair
13 January 2021
For our first post, Laura, the Chair of WAND is here to introduce herself, the organisation and our plans for 2021. We welcome guest bloggers – if you’ve got a particular issue or viewpoint you’d like to share here please get in touch.
Welcome, reader, to the first blog post hosted by Women’s Action Network Dorset. To get us started, I’d like to give an overview of what WAND is, what we’ve been up to lately and our plans for 2021.
I’ll begin with some background – WAND is a community voluntary organisation in Dorset, that began its journey back in 2006. In its early years the organisation was council-funded, and has continued to remain firmly rooted within the local community. WAND operates with three key aims:
Social WAND – facilitating events and activities where women in Dorset can meet each other and socialise
Serious WAND – raising awareness of issues affecting women’s wellbeing and supporting organisations aligned to women’s issues
Supportive WAND – supporting and encouraging women in all walks of life through sharing members’ skills and knowledge
Historically, WAND has achieved these aims with a variety of lively events and fundraising for local women’s organisations – these have included Reclaim the Night marches and the incredible Dorset Women’s Day. We have raised money for organisations that do life-saving work with women who have experienced abuse and sexual violence, from Dorset and beyond.
In 2019, some of our long-standing, wonderful committee members decided to step down due to other commitments. A new(ish!) committee decided to take up the mantle of WAND, as they felt WAND could still make a difference in the local community. However, with only 3 members, the group’s capacity was limited – and then coronavirus hit.
The coronavirus pandemic has of course rocked the whole world, but we know that women and girls have been disproportionately impacted. Women in the UK, for example, are shouldering the burden of increased childcare and other unpaid labour, potentially at the expense of their own careers. Lockdowns have also meant that many women have become trapped with violent, abusive partners at home – deeply troubling statistics show increases in domestic violence incidents, and domestic abuse hotlines have reported a sharp rises in demand for their services. With this context in mind, we feel that it has never been more important for all of us to do what we can to supportwomen – even seemingly small actions can truly have a big impact.
Although the coronavirus threw a significant spanner in the works, there were still some exciting developments for WAND in 2020 – to mark International Women’s Day, we carried out some research into what was important to local women with the wonderful Dorchester Feminist Group (the full research report will be available soon).We also: hosted a couple of “bring & share” events; printed cards for young women about healthy relationships to give out in schools; refreshed our website; and maintained our online network by sharing information we felt would be of interest to local women.
In autumn 2020, we also expanded our committee up to 7 members (on a personal note, these women are all brilliant and I’m really pleased to be working with them!). You may have met them already if you attended our AGM, but if not, hopefully you’ll will get to do so at an event soon. This is a very exciting time for WAND, as we now have more capacity to host events, even though the format of WAND’s events will be different to how they have been run in the past. To protect our community from the risk of coronavirus transmission, our events are likely to take place virtually for the foreseeable future.
We will be hosting monthly events via Zoom, starting this January – you may have already seen that we will be hosting an open public meeting on January 20th at 7pm (full details available on our website and Facebook page). Then from February, we will be hosting alternate book clubs and listening circles – you can find our book club event on February 17thhere (we’ll be discussing “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay), with details of our first listening circle event TBC. We’re really looking forward to these as a way of connecting women, sharing experiences, supporting one another, and hopefully even finding a bit of joy throughout these challenging times.
Our new committee have also been having discussions about how we can support young women in Dorset, and so we have decided to fundraise for the marvellous Shine Project this year. They do some incredible work to build the confidence and self-esteem of teen girls across Dorset, and so we will be asking that attendees of our online events make a small voluntary donation to them (if they are able to do so).
So that’s us and our plans! The one last thing I wanted to mention was this new blog – we’dabsolutely love to have guest contributors to this, to provide some really interesting content relevant to women’s issues and experiences. If you’ve got an idea for something you would like to write for us, then please get in touch via email@example.com and we will give you some more information.
Hopefully hear from you soon or see you at one of our upcoming events!
Warmest of regards,