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Hear Her Roar: Where are Women's Voices? - a startling and frank discussion about all areas of feminism and womanhood

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“No one’s born woke” Says Scarlett Curtis, the 23-year-old activist and curator of the Sunday Times bestselling book of essays Feminist’s Don’t Wear Pink & Other Lies.

The topics of feminism, white privilege, politics and trauma, filled the Dorfman Theatre as members of the audience nodded ferociously in appreciation of hearing women talking so openly about issues that most of society have stayed quiet about.

Curtis led the panel discussion entitled Hear Her Roar: Where are Women’s Voices?, alongside social activist Nimco Ali, poet Momtaza Mehri, and poet and journalist Bridget Minamore.

Curtis opens the talk by asking each woman how they got the confidence to use their voices to speak out. Minamore, who was voted one of Speaking Volumes’ 40 stars of Black British Literature, had this to say: “I was someone who wrote and started writing as a product of where I came from and who I was. I think when people say women's voices, I think my voice is a woman's voice but it's also a very particular woman's voice. It's a black woman's voice. and it's a black working-class woman's voice and for me, all of those things... gender, class and race were very instrumental in why I was writing.”

“Hopefully we'll get to a point in the future where women's voices - all women's voices that we want to hear are able to do a myriad and talk about a myriad of things - as opposed to just, here is a woman talking about womanhood…here is a black woman talking about black womanhood…here is a working-class woman talking about working-class womanhood, and actually here is a woman speaking - is my big aim.”

On being pigeon-holed into certain minorities:

Minamore is also very vocal about how race and class can mean being ‘pigeon-holed’ as a woman: “As a poet, I find it really interesting in the sort of trend in how I’ve been described over the years. When I was a teenager, despite spending pretty much all my formative years in south-east London and being told that I sounded more posh - you know I’m an only child, I grew up with adults speaking around me- suddenly when I started writing poems, I was an urban poet and I thought... alright? Am I? Ok, I’m an urban poet then. And then I was a grime poet for a little while, people were calling me a grime poet which I mean listen to me... is so ridiculously far away from who I am... As much as I want to be a grime artist or rapper I’m really not.”

On the justice system:

Ali, a leading activist in the fight to end female genital mutilation (FGM),  believes that the justice system has a lot to answer for in terms of women being able to speak up for themselves: “One of my best friends, who is a police officer, said if I was raped I don't think I’d ever report it.”

There’s a clear moment of shock in the audience and Ali continues: “If you look at rape juries, the prosecution always hopes that there are more men than women on a panel - on the jury, because of the fact that a lot of women have been through a similar experience to the victim in the case but have never defined it as rape so therefore what they do is they reject her statement.”

Mehri, who is currently the Young People’s Poet Laureate for London, makes the point that the recent #MeToo movement has changed how we, as a society, view suffering: “Suffering has been turned into a spectator sport” 

“I'm not interested in the scandals and thing committed by terrible men, I'm interested in the systems – understanding the systems that give them terrible power.” 

On women misusing their power:

On the topic of women in positions of power Ali tells the audience that it’s not about having one woman in a position in power, it’s about a lot of women:

“The more women you see in positions of power, the more you think you could actually do that.”

Mehri agrees: “If you're a woman and you're voting for parties and you're standing for policies that aren't for women, that harm women from marginalised communities, trans women... we have so many of those people in power right now and that's not girl power. We're not in the '90s anymore.”

Minamore has this to say about white privilege: “One of the most frustrating things I’ve found about the political discourse in this country in the past few years amongst many frustrating things is this perception as the right on middle classes who are liberal and the stupid, racist working classes and for me it was just not that experience at all growing up in south-east London. I’m not saying that this is everyone’s experience but my experience was living in my sort of bubble surrounded by - not feeling working class, not feeling poor and then going to university, still in London at UCL, and suddenly confronted with this barrage of racism that I hadn’t experienced in that way and not really understanding that it wasn't just race it was also class.”

On white privilege:

This leads on to the final discussion surrounding the taboo topic of white privilege.

“White middle class men have been told for a long time that they are god's gift - and now they've seen that they're not.” Says Ali.

Minamore agrees: “White upper-middle-class feminists are always the ones who have been most irritated when I’ve spoken back - and that's how it goes.”

Mehri also agrees with this stance: “I had a lot of teachers that really disliked me, all my English teachers and unanimously they were all white women that's what I remember and we always used to get into arguments.”

“Getting shot down by them and just being the best in the class in terms of my grades but then really being disrespected, so I just had this experience with white women as authority figures that were sort of quite undermining.”

Curtis, an upper-middle-class white woman herself agreed with the points: “Often white women are given too much time to speak, and also we can make a lot of mistakes and think that when we speak up that we are in some way speaking for all women - which is definitely not true.”

'Hear Her Roar: Where are Women’s Voices?' was an incredible opportunity to hear unfiltered women’s voices in a safe and educational environment, as an audience we went away educated and enlightened and most importantly ready for change.

'Here Her Roar' was part of the National Theatre's 'Courage Everywhere' season. More information about future events can be found here.

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