‘What do we chain ourselves to fences for today?’: Wonder Women set to take over city

Manchester’s Museums and galleries will join together to host the fourth Wonder Women festival, in honour of International Women’s Day on Tuesday March 8.

45 female focused events will take place across the city, from the March 3 to 13, as part of a five year project leading up to the centenary of women receiving the partial right to vote in 1918.

Coordinated jointly by the People’s History Museum and art’s website Creative Tourist, the festival is keen to celebrate Manchester’s own radical history – with the city being the birthplace of the Suffragette movement.

Speaking to MM, Wonder Women’s Programme Coordinator, Stevie Mackenzie-Smith, said: “The themes for this year’s event are very much about thinking ‘what are the ideas that we are fighting for today?’

“What are we chaining ourselves to fences for today?”

And indeed, the broad range of events taking place over the ten days would suggest a great number of things.

Ranging from rare 16mm film screenings to workshops on female sexual pleasure, this year’s diverse programme reaches out to all who identify as female.

One particular event exiting Stevie will explore the very nature of gender and identity, through looking at our relationship to clothing.

What IS She Wearing? – taking place on the March 3 at Manchester Art Gallery – features intersectional feminist debate, as well as including London-based nail pop-up bar Nail Transphobia, run by Charlie Craggs.

Craggs, a trans woman, started Nail Transphobia to combat the misconceptions many people have about trans issues in an informal environment.

And the project’s success has seen Craggs named one of the UK’s most influential LGBTI people.

“The What Is She Wearing event is about the political implications of fashion, and what I really like about Nails Transphobia is that it’s a very political act,” said Stevie.

“It’s about having your nails done by somebody and the personal interaction that is very intimate that you have with someone who is servicing you in some way, whether it is your hair, or your makeup or waxing.

“And the fact that you are meeting somebody who is a trans woman, and who you are having that intimate experience with. I think that’s really political and a fantastic idea.”

With all events, the hope is that they will open up a conversation, and Monday 7’s Women’s Sexual Pleasure workshop is sure to do just that.

“I like the idea of being able to take those conversations that feel like revelations about women’s sexual pleasure, and to put them into a gallery space and have a workshop around that,” Stevie explained.

“The workshop is really brilliant because that’s taking place in Castlefield Gallery.

“I like that match of those two spaces, and having a chance for women to maybe have those conversations that they are having around kitchen tables and pubs, or when they’re meeting up with their babies at post-natal groups.

“It needs to be as diverse as possible.

“Lots of women who are really interested are older women with young kids. We’re really keen that it is about reflecting Manchester today.”

The rise in female-focused events in Manchester is a welcome one, with the London-centric nature of UK-based feminism having previously overshadowed a lot of Manchester-based activism.

“I do want those groups of young women in their 20s who are creatives, who feel like they’re maybe not seeing as vibrant a scene for feminist collectives in Manchester as they are in London to come along and be inspired, and to see that it is possible to do this sort of thing quite easily,” Stevie said.

One event, sure to bring in many 20-something women will be an interactive Mean Girls evening, run by the collective Girl Gang Manchester #1.

Now over a decade old, the cult film has stood the test of time – and relevancy – with its rare message of female empowerment in mainstream cinema.

The ever-quotable film has helped a generation of teens to recognise the widespread societal effects of slut-shaming and pitching girls against each other, and Stevie believes hosts Girl Gang Manchester reiterate this message perfectly.

“[The event] has been produced by an independent promoter,” she said.

“So there’s a sense of really representing young creative women in Manchester that are making things happen off their own backs, and not really having as many resources necessarily, but just having the whereabouts to get it off the ground.

“I think Manchester is really good at that as a city, it is one of its strengths, so it’s important to reflect that in the programme.”

A panel on ‘gender as a genre’ at the Jewish Musuem, featuring Pitchfork’s own Laura Snapes, and a coding event for Brownies at the National Football Museum are just two of a number of listings that show the breadth of this year’s programme.

Whilst the website specifies certain events as restricted to self-identifying women, many others are open to all, and Stevie wants the quality of the event to be the focus.

“It’s a feminist festival which is about celebrating the strength of women, and we want men to celebrate the strength of women and we want men to support women,” she said.

“They should be coming along and enjoying themselves, just as much as they would go along and enjoy themselves at a festival that has male musicians or male writers.

“It shouldn’t be about it being a ‘woman’s festival’ – it’s about equally supporting the gender, and anyone who defines as that gender.”

Tickets for the festival are now on sale at a range of prices and with discounts available for this on lower incomes. With many high demand events sure to sell out, those interested are advised to act quickly.

Click here for more information. 

Image courtesy of People’s History Museum, with thanks

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