My visit to the House of Lords

Today I attended an event at the House of Lords to celebrate Voicebox Cafés work supporting underrepresented women to participate in public life.

As a sound artist I have worked in some eccentric places but none quite as grand as the House of Lords! 

I was there in my capacity as a BreakthroughUK Trustee to help promote their new Manchester based women’s project – D3 (Democracy Disability & Devolution).

There were lots of interesting speakers at the celebration talking about a wide range of empowering projects.  I was particularly impressed by the young women from Manchester’s Women Making History project talking passionately about international and domestic ‘period poverty’.  This was a subject I briefly touched upon in my sound piece about disabled women’s health.

Disabled women’s healthcare is also a topic that BreakthroughUK is addressing through their health screening workshops.  Running at the same time as D3  these initiatives will support, encourage and empower local disabled women to take action and become more politically active.

D3:Democracy Disability & Devolution

Supporting disabled women to get involved in the political process is so important because we are particularly underrepresented.

According to the Fawcett Society only TWO female MPs identify as being disabled people – under half a percent of the House of Commons!  Yet the ONS estimates that approximately  8% of the working age population are disabled women.

Our lack of representation can be partly attributed to a global culture of misogynism within the political process.  But I also think we face a hybrid form of misogynism, as illustrated by the awful sexism and ableism  Freyja Haraldsdóttir recently experienced from other Icelandic MPs.

This intersection of misogyny and ableism is apparent within all aspects of the political process – from voting to standing in elected office. 

In the UK there has even been issues at AWS (All Women Shortlists),  such as the lack of step free speaking platforms and ableist attitudes.  For example,  one AWS candidate kept emphasising her ‘physical prowess’ during Hustings.   A debating tactic which would be questioned, at the very least, if she was emphasising being white or heterosexual etc . 

We have a political culture of macho-ableism which favours the loudest, rather than the most suitable, candidate.  Alongside the lack of basic adjustments, this sends the message that disabled women are not expected to be part of the political process. 

Recently this problem has been highlighted by shadow minister Marsha de Cordova after House of Commons authorities provided an inaccessible meeting room for an event being held to celebrate the UN’s international day of disabled people!

Hopefully initiatives like D3 and VoiceBox Cafes will go some way in changing this status quo.

For more information about D3 please see the Breakthrough website: https://www.breakthrough-uk.co.uk/democracy-disability-devolution.

Sonic Pixels: The secret history of the radical female shopper…

Rosa May Billinghurst used her tricycle chair to ram police at protests.

Step into a world of sound with Sonic Pixels. Wander through the stunning Victorian shopping mall, trigger speakers in real-time and experience what it feels like to be right at the heart of sonic compositions.

Member of the Cornbrook Creative team setting up the LED speaker system

Working alongside Cornbrook Creative,  my latest sound piece is a feminist interpretation of Barton Arcade.

Built in 1871, you might think of Barton Arcade as typifying the luxury culture of the nineteenth century, with a carriage entrance and raw iron gates. It is certainly not considered a particularly radical space. However, like many other similar arcades it was once one of the few places women could move freely without being chaperoned by a man.

Historian Erika Diane Rappaport explains that it was during this period that ‘a family’s respectability and social position depended upon the idea that the middle-class wife and daughter remain apart from the market, politics, and public space’. Shopping itself may have been fetishized into women’s greatest pleasure, but for many middle-class housewives in Victorian Britain, shopping was their first taste of real freedom and therefore marked the starting point for their push into public life. Barton Arcade was a place in which, for the first time, women were able to share ideas and meet in public without being accompanied by a man.

Whether it was the Women’s Emergency Corps meetings, Pankhurst’s shopping trips, or female pick-pockets, my piece will explore the secret history of the radical female shopper. Using archived materials, and “found” sounds, I will re-imagine the groups who met here; the conversations that may have taken place and bring to life the stories of the women that occupied this space.

A Womb With A View – documentary sound installation

In response to recent cases of growth attenuation and forced sterilisation of disabled people, I composed a unique documentary sound installation – ‘A Womb With A View’.  My installation is a journey into the complexities of ‘womanhood’ and our reproductive rights.

The documentary is both funny, hopeful and at times heart wrenching.  In 2016 I worked in collaboration with visual and textile artist Jennifer Bryant, to present the piece in a physical form.  Their installation piece was showcased at the Shoddy exhibition in Leeds, Spring 2016.

Quotes from ‘A Womb With A View‘:

“Fundamentally it means that I am female, it has dictated the shape of my body and the sound of my voice…. my hormones, so my emotions.”

“It’s holding a little baby.”

“I didn’t start my periods till i was 17 and what it did was heralded the beginning of puberty, and for me that meant I got a lot stronger.”

“Women with epilepsy were routinely sterilised  in this country until quite recently.”

“My sex education came from behind bomb shelters and walls and things.”

“It’s the one thing you can’t give a man who wants to become a woman, the essence of being a woman is having a womb.”

“One of society’s concepts is that to be a real woman you need to have a womb amongst other things like breasts,  and dress a certain way and behave a certain way,  but a womb is an important part of womanhood for a lot of people.”

“Womanhood is about the inner self and not the superficial exterior.”

“Protecting her from pain or distress by cutting into her body and slicing through skin and muscle and membrane and taking organs out, seems a really brutal overreaction.”

“Part of the notion that you should sterilise somebody with an intellectual impairment comes from a deeply discriminatory position tied to a kind of sense of gothic horror that some people might be sexual.”

“I certainly don’t think that people who don’t have wombs, I don’t think they’re not women because they don’t have that, I don’t think you need breasts to be a woman, I fundamentally don’t believe in that tie.”