This weekend, I was privileged enough to speak at the Nine Worlds (London Geekfest) convention on behalf of Girlguiding. In many ways, it was an absolute dream come true, and it was as inspiring and thought-provoking as it was exhausting!
I have been a long-time science-fiction fan, having grown up on the staple diet of Star Trek, Seaquest and Quantum Leap before expanding into my own fandoms. I've been attending conventions as a fan for eight years and have been crewing them for about five. I am no stranger to the convention world!
But this was the first time that I was invited down as a speaker, which was both flattering and terrifying. When I saw my name billed as a guest alongside people I admire (Laurie Penny, Paul Cornell, Robert Rankin, Kai Owen, Chris Barrie, Rhianna Pratchett - the list is endless!), it literally reduced me to tears. The sheer impact of what I was doing was phenomenal.
|Me with Philippa Hibbs from NMP3|
I arrived at the venue on Saturday morning for a panel called "Take Back The Net", which was all about online feminism and using the internet for advocacy. I was speaking alongside Philippa Hibbs from No More Page Three, Robyn Exton (the founder of Dattch) and Lilli Evans who founded the Twitter Youth Feminist Army. The panel itself was both interesting and challenging, not only asking about what our organisations are doing (if any Girlguiding people were playing buzzword bingo in the audience, full house would have been achieved in 30 seconds), but asking what we thought the current landscape looked like, what we thought the important tools were for change and what the future of advocacy is. Wow!
It was an incredibly supportive and inclusive environment. Although some of us disagreed on certain aspects, we are all wanting change and social justice. I was very relieved when I got a round of applause after speaking about feminism not just being a female issue - I was a little worried my slightly awkward attempt at non-binary gender identity inclusiveness had just offended half the room!
Next was a non-Guiding break - I was lucky enough to get to moderate (host, for non-geeks out there) a panel on feminism in the Whedonverse. It including discussions on whether strong female roles could necessarily be called feminist, consent and rape culture in Dollhouse, the Smurfette principle in Avengers Assemble, recasting of male roles as female in Much Ado About Nothing and much more. I had thought the Take Back The Net panel was packed, with people sat on the floor and spilling out, but Big Damn Heroines had people turned away - it was CRAZY!
|Cake is always a winner!|
Back to Guiding after Whedon, and I ran a session for children, looking at gender stereotypes. It wasn't very well attended, but the children I had were also interested in advocacy, so while doing our activities we discussed how they could campaign in their schools back home. We looked at professions and gender, with a whole host of science-fiction characters who break traditional gender roles (Roslin as president, River as warrior, Strax as nanny and Rory as nurse, to name a few) and I was encouraged to see young people thinking more about stance and confidence than gender when trying to match roles to people. We did some construction but also cake decorating, played a game about inclusiveness and generally had a lot of fun!
|At least the presentation |
There was plenty of free time on Sunday to look around and do what I wanted, before going to my final workshop. This time, I was running a workshop on advocacy. Although I used a Girlguiding format (as the more recognisable brand for people), it drew on WAGGGS seminars and methodology. We looked at the three part process of advocacy (speak out, take action, educate) and the WAGGGS eight step methodology for achieving that. We worked on how to engage men in feminist advocacy, the importance of using media and how to create partnerships. I was blown away at the insight of the participants and flattered that people like Lili and Josie, who are working on large-scale advocacy campaigns themselves, came to the session looking for inspiration and advice.
But although those were the formal bits of my presence at Nine Worlds, a lot of the interesting impact happened outside that time. Conversations about Girlguiding and inclusiveness (how many times have I used that word today?), people who thought we were only open to straight, white, Christian girls. Conversations with people who would love to get involved but felt alienated, conversations with people who didn't realise the advocacy work we're doing as an organisation. It really challenged people about how they thought about us, and made a lot of people see that we are normal people behind the uniform!
One wonderful example of this was a chat I had with Philippa from No More Page Three, who admitted that when Girlguiding first signed up to the campaign, she was was worried and dubious. It was when she went and did some real research that she got on board with it, and said that she hopes more people will do the same this weekend, because Girlguiding isn't what people seem to think it is.
I honestly would encourage people to get out there and speak at events. Obviously, it needs running by the relevant commissioners or whoever, but the more we reach out in arenas that aren't traditionally seen as our "domain" and we show what Girlguiding is REALLY about, the more impact we will have.
Thankfully, Nine Worlds want me back next year. As long as the lovely folk at CHQ are alright with that (and probably even if they're not!), I will be there with bells on. In the meantime, I want more opportunities to get out there and talk - bring it on!