Gender equality under the spotlight at Cambridge Festival

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, the Cambridge Festival is looking to explore different aspects of gender equality from the future of feminism, women and power after Covid and menstrual shaming to the future of family planning.

Juliana Romao

Speakers include authors Jeanette Winterson and Jessa Crispin and journalist Mary Ann Sieghart.

The Festival, which runs from 31st March to 10th April, is the University of Cambridge’s leading public engagement event and tackles and offers solutions for some of our most pressing issues, from the multiple crises in politics, health and climate change to global economics and human rights. 

In 12 bytes: discussing artificial intelligence with Jeanette Winterson, the author will be talking to Cambridge University Librarian, Dr Jessica Gardner, about her new book 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next, a series of essays exploring her years of researching Artificial Intelligence and the implications it is having on the ways we live and the ways we love. Winterson, author of the award-winning novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, has explored the boundaries of physicality and the imagination, gender polarities and sexual identities in her novels and her new book uses history, religion, myth, literature, politics and computer science to help us understand the radical changes to the way we live and love that are happening now. 5.30-6.30, 1st April. 

The future is also the theme of Engendering equality: the future of feminism is an age of uncertainty. Acclaimed writer Jessa Crispin, author of ‘Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto’, will be in discussion with Dr Finn Mackay, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Bristol and radical trans feminist campaigner and Yra van Dijk, professor of Modern Dutch Literature at the University of Leiden, about inclusivity, gendered violence and safe spaces with guests in a lively panel discussion, hosted by researcher Lotte Hondebrink. Questions they will cover include: Can women’s equality be seen as something that is getting better? If not, where are the main points of regression/stagnation and how can we tackle them? How do we combine the need for inclusivity of feminist movements with the need for safe spaces? What role can men play? And how can we navigate intersectionality and questions that could simply have different answers for different people?

Hondebrink’s research focuses on issues surrounding interpersonal connections, inclusivity and feminism and seeks to unite intellectual history and present-day activism in order to benefit movements of emancipation. 

She says: “In today’s information bubbles, lockdowns and political polarisation, the answer to questions on inclusivity, gendered violence and safe spaces is far from clear. After many decades of feminist activism, the position of women in virtually all societies is still more precarious than that of men, and women remain a target of many forms of gendered violence.”  6.30-9pm, 1st April.

Women and power after Covid is very much rooted in the present and recent past. It will see a lively discussion of the impact of the pandemic on women in politics and business. It will tackle questions such as whether female political leaders have proved better at steering their communities through the crisis, whether the additional care burden they have faced has affected their career progression and whether the pandemic has sparked a greater urgency when it comes to action. The panellists are Mary Ann Sieghart, former Assistant Editor of The Times, Chair of the judges for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022 and author of The Authority Gap which explores why women are still taken less seriously than men and what we can do about it; Jennifer Piscopo, Director of the Center for Research and Scholarship at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, who has written extensively on women political leaders; Bukola Adisa, Founder/CEO of Career Masterclass, which helps women and BAME professionals progress in the workplace; and Resham Kotecha, a policy specialist who stood as a Conservative party candidate in the 2015 general election, is a Trustee of the Fawcett Society and serves as the Head of Engagement for Women2Win, an organisation cofounded by Theresa May to get more women elected to Parliament. The panel will be chaired by Heidi Allen, Chair of CHS Group who is the Former MP for South Cambridgeshire. 7th April, 6-7.30pm. This is a virtual event only.

 Also on the theme of the pandemic and climate change, Narcissus Nature Morte Mukbang by Emily Perry is a performance art event which responds to Gayle Chong Kwan’s 2004 photographic series Cockaigne and the wider collection of art by women in the New Hall Art Collection. It uses humour to explore consumption, feminism, the fetishisation of nature and food in the context of Covid-19 and climate crisis. 

 It includes a guided meditation and participants will be invited into the Murray Edwards gardens to ground themselves in the earth, look deeply, plant vegetables, pick daffodils and breathe. The event seeks to subvert the established art historical portrayal of women in nature and to explore our consumption of nature in the context of lockdowns and global warming. 

 A performance by women at the table will sarcastically depict an art historical and contemporary societal portrayal of women in relation to food. The female performers hopelessly attempt to conduct the audience as they eat lunch and socialise; they pose as table decorations; they bring food to their mouths but don’t eat it; they repeat. The audience can observe or ignore the performing women, like the artworks on the tables and the walls, while eating lunch. 

The performance will be followed by an artist talk with Gayle Chong Kwan and Emily Perry in the iconic fountain courtyard at Murray Edwards College. 10th April, 12-2.30pm.

And in The Imagineers, Gates Cambridge Scholar Ronja Griep will discuss her research in a short film on menstrual shaming and will argue that menstrual shaming is a form of gendered injustice. She believes we should look carefully at the rise of menstrual tracking apps and consider whether they can help to overcome menstrual stigma. 10th April,  2-3pm.

Other related events include:

The future of family planning: can technology help? in which Cambridge Reproduction and the Cambridge University Femtech Society discuss the latest technologies which aim to revolutionise contraception and family planning. The event will feature a panel of researchers from the University of Cambridge and founders of companies focused on women’s health. The panel will unpick gaps in existing contraception and fertility technologies and present the opportunities for new products and services. They also discuss the challenges and risks of innovation. Panellists include Dr Lucy van de Wiel, Lecturer in Global Health and Social Medicine, Kings College London, who will discuss egg freezing in the context of ageing; Dr Caroline Rusterholz, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in History, University of Cambridge who will focus on the history of contraception and family planning technologies, such as Depo-Provera; and Rob Milnes, CEO of viO HealthTech (a multinational company that offers fertility technologies for women) and Frederik Petursson Madsen, CEO of OUI (creators of next-generation contraceptive technology to replace hormonal birth control) who will explore what they see as the future of family planning and Femtech. 4th April, 6-7.15pm. 

Cambridge at the forefront of human embryo research features a panel of experts on the many legal, ethical, and moral questions raised about which experiments are acceptable, and where we should draw the boundaries. Panellists include Professor Sarah Franklin, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge who has substantially contributed to the fields of feminism, gender studies, cultural studies and the social study of reproductive and genetic technology. 8th April, 7.30-9pm, online.

She! Justified and Ancient, an award-nominated show which sees comedian Charmian Hughes discuss environmental destruction, expectations of human happiness and whether the 1960s cult classic She! starring Ursula Andress is an apt metaphor for how we live today. 7th April, 7.45-8.45pm.

Image: Juliana Romao, unsplash

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