Last weekend, tucked away in the Botanic Gardens, there lay some sort of fusion of Alice in Wonderland and a feminist utopia. Whereupon, meandering through the foliage, you stumble across a beautiful marquee; groups of students on picnic blankets leafing through books, lazing idly on the grass; friendship bracelets being strung together, or, during conversations, just hanging hesitantly in the air like windchimes. This was the picture (for more or less three hours) of FemFest.
The Feminist Society organised an afternoon of activities and entertainment, providing a laidback atmosphere through workshops, live music and stalls – enough to excite, but not so much that it was overwhelming. Some of the creative activities offered included newspaper collages and bracelet-making: under the canopy of the marquee, students could meet new people whilst binding beads and strings. A committee member of the Feminist Society, Kavia, said the event really emphasised the variety of activities and issues they cover, as well as the welcoming and warm nature of the community. Throughout the whole afternoon, attendees were met with a rotation of live music, from gentle acoustic guitar sets and vocals to the female a cappella group The Hummingbirds.
An afternoon hosted within the magic of St Andrews Botanic Gardens truly brought to light the gentle nature of this event. With FemFest particularly, though, it got me thinking about the connection between environmentalism, nature and feminism. The domination of the environment is, more often than not, tied up within the oppression of women (there are many ecological feminism articles out there if you fancy a read). However, in several cultures and philosophies, the intersectionality goes deeper than this. Ecology and feminism certainly have common roots (if you’ll pardon the pun) in nature; women have historically been believed to be more in tune with the outside world of the wilderness; the Earth herself is referred to as feminine, as a protector, a provider and nurturer. This all added to the greenness of the surroundings and general peaceful atmosphere of FemFest.
There was also a table full of feminist books at the event, ranging from the icon herself Audre Lorde, to lesser-known works on intersectionality and sexuality. The table was a chance to touch base with some theory and dip into the wonders of the written word. With a membership, you could borrow any one of these books at your convenience. Fancy immersing yourself in the wonderful world of sexual liberation and sex positivity? Some titles on offer included Easton’s The New Bottoming Book, Sollée’s Witches, Sluts, Feminists and Diamond’s Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Woman’s Love and Desire. And then there was, of course, those on sexism and misogyny such as Bates’ Everyday Sexism. If you’re interested in discussing and engaging on this more critical discourse of feminism with other students, the society also hosts book groups and talks!
After a lovely, home-baked (and well in demand!) cookie, FemFest-goers were given the chance to buy membership to the society. Committee member Celine mentioned that they raise funds for the FRASAC (Fife Rape and Sexual Assault Centre), highlighting how gendered violence is an issue to be tackled not just globally but also locally. I spoke to some more of the committee members to get a gauge of what they do, other than the appealing book groups. Elena, the president, who is now in her final year, stressed the importance of holding activities which were intersectional and inclusive. When I asked what her definition of feminism is, she quoted Bell Hooks in that “feminism is liberation for all”, and that “nobody’s free until everyone’s free”. The society’s fun social events and campaigns aren’t exclusively based on feminist issues in the town but are instead multifaceted: they vary from showing solidarity with Palestine to supporting the LGBTQ+ community within St Andrews. To her, the Feminist Society is a safe space where students can talk and discuss gender-based topics. This sometimes includes collaborating with other societies, such as with the Socialist Society’s reading groups, GotConsent?, Sexpression and Women for Women.
FemFest did well to demonstrate the intersectionality it preaches, with various stalls giving space to other societies. Saints LGBTQ+ had a stall, where they encouraged students to write colourful messages of hope. Representatives Jack and Sofia said it was important to be at FemFest because both of their societies emphasised inclusivity and support for one another.
I also had a chat with another Elena (also in her final year) who coordinates the GotConsent? group and has been involved with them since freshers. They’re a student-led educational consent group who hold workshops both in person and online to other students. In fact, every society in the university must undergo a GotConsent? workshop in order to be affiliated. When asking her why this initiative was so important in the small town of St Andrews, she mentioned how she was motivated by hearing the experiences of students here and how easy it is to overlook the problem of lacking consent.
So, there you have it: the magic and diversity of FemFest, all under one canopy.