The by-line of the Audacious Women Festival, now in its 3rd year, is “Do what you always wished you dared.” Sally Wainwright, one of the organisers, introduces this theme by telling us about a singing workshop for those who believe they cannot sing but who managed a four-part harmony after 2 hours and a beginner’s song-writing workshop whose participants were so keen they continued to read out their work in the street afterwards.
The performers and event alike operate with pre-planned efficiency, open friendliness, and an intensely supportive atmosphere where intimate confessions are interspersed with poetry, discussion and music. The Festival website states that it is “a chance to break personal, political, institutional barriers”, and the frank language and direct approach of most of the women is refreshing and challenging on all those levels.
The compere, Agnes Török, herself an experienced spoken word artist with a new book out entitled We Need To Talk, solidarity and survivorship starts by encouraging us to whoop and applaud, for all the world like a TV show about to go on air, in order to encourage and appreciate those who will declare. A Swede by birth, Agnes’ English is perfect and she speaks and declaims assertively on behalf of those who are being or have been abused, focusing on the #MeToo campaign, and reiterating she is only with us herself because of Women’s Aid.
In terms of material, Emily Still’s Don’t Stand So Close about a female robot wired to be hyper-clever and made by men who want to have their way with her in the lab of an evening, conveys a creepy, inadvertently-cross-my-legs-on-hearing-it reaction. Her wry Fat Poet is also original, in which we can picture her without judgment and see how she is discriminated against by others. Lore, an amusing prose piece about her one-legged great granny falling into the toilet is partly verbalised in her local Leith dialect.
The second half contains a panel conversation lead by Török with Edinburgh Women’s Aid CEO Linda Rodgers and Edinburgh Rape Crisis Sexual Violence Prevention Worker Nadine (celebrating, respectively, their 45th and 40th anniversaries). All three women are eloquent, informative, highly informed and sparky. The questions are excellent: looking at the shape of a world without violence against women, recent breakthroughs in legislation, and what each one of us can do to help the cause – listen and always believe women who tell you they have been abused.