Feminist Schools Day in Edinburgh

Yesterday in the Chrystal MacMillan building in George Square, Scottish Women’s Aid hosted a day school for feminists. First session started at 10:30, so as a direct result, I was heading up Castle Terrace towards the farmer’s market by 9:30.

Castle Terrace, Edinburgh, morning

This is the farmer’s market. There isn’t usually a table set there (but there will be for the rest of the summer):
Edinburgh Farmer's Market, 17th March

The table was set to advertise the opening of the Gardener’s Cottage, which is going to be a traditional tea-room in the London Road gardens, in, yes, the gardener’s cottage.

I resisted the luscious tarts that MyJam sells (wisely as it turns out).

My Jam tarts (not actually mine) at Edinburgh Farmer's Market

Instead I had one of her freshly-cooked pancakes with raspberry jam and raspberries (and a croissant from Valvona and Crolla, and a cheese spiral from the Engine Shed). And coffee from the Torchwood Coffee Company, who out of all of space and time opt to spend Saturday mornings in Edinburgh at the farmer’s market.

Fresh hot pancake with jam for breakfast

And walked on up to the High Street, pausing to admire the Grassmarket from the top of Granny Green’s Steps.

Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Granny's Green steps

Someone was quoting Macbeth outside St Giles. Let’s hope it didn’t bring them bad luck.

Double Double Toil and Trouble, Premonition, outside St Giles, Edinburgh

When Chrystal MacMillan was at Edinburgh University, the houses round George Square – which then as now were university-owned – would all have looked like this:
Old George Square, University of Edinburgh

But in the 1960s the University decided to tear most of the beautiful old buildings down and replace them with something thoroughly modern, which looks like this:
New George Square, University of Edinburgh

The only minor flaw I found in the day school was that they’d lost my registration. So I paid again (figuring that Scottish Women’s Aid could use the donation) and re-registered. Unfortunately by that time the first sessions of the day (“Hearing”) were all full up, so I sat peaceably drinking tea and enjoying a chocolate brownie, while reading Karen Millar’s third Godspeaker novel: the feminist sitting next to me was reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed for the first time.

Feminist Day School registration desk

(The Dispossessed is a novel that, agree or disagree with its politics, which become more complex on a further reading, furnishes the mind wonderfully. I’ve enjoyed the worlds of Mijak and Ethrea, but reading it is like a trip to Ikea compared with reading LeGuin’s novel of feminism, anarchism, practical communism, time, and physics. See, among other reactions, Fantastic visions: On the necessity of feminist utopian narrative.)

Oh yes, cake. Scottish Women’s Aid could not afford to provide lunch for a £5 feminist day school, but there were any number of places to go get something to eat nearby (ranging from the student union to the pricey-but-delicious Peter’s Yard) and seeing on the programme that lunch was not provided, I’d breakfasted at the farmer’s market and bought a second cheese spiral to fill up on. But they’d also done an awesome array of cakes – including a vegan chocolate cake, apple-cinnamon cake, and far too many delicious cinnamon buns. Feminists and cake, what could be better?

At noon I went to my “Connections” session, which was Get SAVI, about how to do interventions when you are a bystander. What we had time for was a taster session of the usual all-day SAVI training, which I’d now really like to do.

The classic problem is – you’re in a crowd, at a party, just walking down the street, and someone does something wrong. Not to you – most of us would have an idea of what we’d do then –

Pickup Artist - a man tries negging on the wrong target

– okay, we might not manage to be as cool as her, but what if the person doing the negging isn’t doing to you, but to the woman sitting at the next table whom you don’t know at all? The Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project & Gentlemen’s Auxiliary arose from an issue at a science-fiction convention – where, even if you don’t know either of the people involved, there is more of a community than just a situation with two strangers on the street, in the supermarket, at a pub, at the disco… what do you do? You don’t want to stand by and act like you think that’s okay, or worse yet that you agree. But you don’t want to make the situation worse, either.

Get Savi presents people taking part with situations that are awkward, difficult, potentially friendship-ending (your friend’s boyfriend is making jokes about her weight: what do you say, and also, when do you say it? Tempting though it may be to force-feed the boyfriend a copy of Fat Is A Feminist issue, it’s unlikely to contructively resolve the issue) and allows participants to discuss them, using techniques of distract, delay, redefine.

After this workshop we stopped for lunch. I went across to Peter’s Yard for coffee. The daffodils on Middle Meadow Walk are beautiful.

Scottish daffodils in March = climate change?

After lunch, I went to the Performing Gender art workshop, which turned out to be not quite what I expected: we all were asked to choose a woman, to have her in our minds as we did our warm-up exercises, and then to split into two and create a short dramatic presentation of our statues. It was fun!

I cannot remember who all the first group did – except that the woman in the middle is Sylvia Pankhurst, typing away as she campaigns for Votes for Women.

Women in Stone - feminist statues

The group I was in presented women from Florence Nightingale, who is not best known as the founder of financial services for British soldiers to send money home to their families, to Audre Lord; and mothers and best friends and a silenced woman who died in a mental asylum… It was, though unexpected, one of the most interesting collective exercises I’d done in ages. More drama at conferences. Well, the right kind of drama.

Women in Stone - feminist statues

After that was the networking event, which was interesting but I hadn’t brought enough business cards (I almost never do… it’s definitely a flaw). And then, feeling good, I walked home, via the Mosque Kitchen for a much-needed curry and Word Power for a couple of feminist books and Tattie Shaws for some fruit.

Word Power books

It was an excellent Edinburgh day. I hope Scottish Women’s Aid does the school again next year.


Filed under About Food, of Edinburgh, Photographs, Scottish Politics, Women

2 responses to “Feminist Schools Day in Edinburgh

  1. Fiona Menzies

    How was the day school?

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