The other day I led a group of 25 women on a magical, moonlit walk along the riverside in Oxford, fields on one side, the still, glassy water on the other reflecting the 12-hours-off-full moon above us. We called it Reclaim the Moonlight – a gentler sister march to our annual autumn Reclaim the Night noise protest through the city centre, raising awareness of the ongoing epidemic of violence against women. We organised Reclaim the Moonlight as part of the Oxford International Women’s Festival www.oxfordwomen.co.uk , which each year does more with a smaller and smaller budget. I swear those women are witches – how else do they make it happen?
I know a woman who hates the festival – she sneers at it and calls it ‘cultural feminism’. She’s a very political activist – a Labour councillor, and national anti-poverty campaigner, good at what she does, effective, with no time for soppy women’s music and arts stuff.
Leaving aside that joy is essential to the development and survival of a political movement; that without dancing no one will join the revolution; that the freedom to make art is just one of the achievements of this amazing movement; and of course all the culture that is integral to the politics of the women’s movement, I’m also bothered by that separation of culture and politics.
Also on Tuesday, I was interviewed by a new local Oxford radio station http://www.ox105fm.com/, and asked: “What do you say to those who say that in some places women’s lack of rights is just cultural?”
I said: “Well, it’s kind of funny how we separate culture and politics. Because really, culture is just tradition, tradition is just history, and history is just politics.”
This isn’t just true for feminism: every tradition has had its renowned cultural workers: singers (Peggy Seeger, Billy Bragg, David Rovics); artists (Judy Chicago, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, William Morris); poets and playwrights (James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Adrienne Rich). The importance of play to politics has been understood for years: see Charles Fourrier’s utopian visions, and more recently the serious funsters and cultural activists of the Rebel Clown Army and others. In survivors’ movements politicised voices have emerged through creative writing, and art therapy.
So today, I urge you all to go out and play, have fun, make art, and let your politics sing through your your creative acts. Feminism reminds us that the personal is political – and so is the cultural.