The Vocal Local: Why Blackpool women Reclaimed Rebellion

Reclaim Blackpool – the campaign mapping sexual harassment in the town – joined forces with Rebellion Festival this month. Women from the campaign tell us why Blackpool is a natural home for punk, and why punk is a natural home for feminism. Main photo: Reclaim activists Georgia and Holly by Elizabeth Gomm

Rebellion Festival is Blackpool at its best. Punks descend on a town that is in many ways a natural home for them – a place that is loud and unapologetic, with a creative and community spirit born out of decent and dissatisfaction.

These are the conditions that have caused Reclaim Blackpool to flourish. We are creating something we can believe in out of the poor hand women and girls in this town are dealt. We’re banging the drum for change and forget about asking nicely.

The female-led, family-friendly Rebellion Festival is one of the town’s biggest events and Reclaim Blackpool was honoured to be approached by organisers who had heard of our work campaigning to end sexual harassment towards women and girls in the town.

Punk and feminism are natural allies and we drew endless strength from punks who encouraged us to keep challenging the status quo through our creative and community work.

Over four days, seven Reclaim activists (wo)manned our stall where they had the opportunity to share our project with thousands of locals and visitors to Blackpool. Over the course of the four-day festival we had incredible conversations with musicians organisers and festival goers. We were overwhelmed by their generosity – in donations and merch sales, yes, but also in their time and support for our cause. Punk and feminism are natural allies and we drew endless strength from punks who encouraged us to keep challenging the status quo through our creative and community work.

Some of us were apprehensive. Yes, punks are known for their radical spirit, but many of them also belong to a demographic of men who are not typically sympathetic to our cause. Some of us felt a little bit out of our depth because we don’t typically listen to punk music and worried that people wouldn’t respond to us (think Barbie when she approaches the high school students!). But we quickly gained in confidence, vindicated by telling our stories and listening to the stories of others.

We spoke to wonderful people – many already acutely aware of the threat women and girls can face in public places and others who were prepared to listen to a new perspective. We engaged with fantastically creative, bold and intelligent people throughout the day, listening to their personal stories, experiences of people they know, and examples of helping other survivors of assault across the UK. The fact that relative strangers felt they could share their own trauma and stories with us in a safe space was so heartwarming and discussing our lived experience with different generations of women and men gave us back a sense of agency many of us have lost through assault or abuse.

Many musicians and prominent punk figures came and showed us their support. We had the most inspiring conversation with Helen Riddington – a writer, academic and musician, formerly of The Chefs and Helen and the Horns, who now performs solo as Helen McCookerybook. Her book The Lost Women of Rock Music explores the reasons why the important contributions of women to the music genre have been lost from the history books. Learning about her incredible career and achievements – which we were unaware of – confirmed the problem. Our work resonated with Helen for its shared aims of ensuring women’s voices and stories are heard.

Brian Mitchell, lead singer of The White Ribbons, shows his support for Reclaim (photo: Elizabeth Gomm)

We also received amazing encouragement from Brian Mitchell – lead singer of The White Ribbons and social worker and lecturer at Bradford College. He didn’t hesitate in getting his hands on one of our pink Catcalling Ain’t A Complement Ts. Mitchell is ambassador for the White Ribbon campaign – not just because of its namesake to his band but because of his believe in its cause to engage men and boys to end violence against women and girls. He’s also a strong supporter of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation – our inspiring stall-mates for the weekend – and now counts himself a strong supporter of the Reclaim movement too.

But many of the most touching experiences came from interactions with the general public. One highlight was a conversation with a man who donated some money to Reclaim. When we asked about his support in our cause, he talked about his daughter’s experiences of sexual harassment while working at a bar. But he didn’t only speak of her – he demonstrated empathy for all women dealing with these things. This should be a minimum expectation, but so often men only relate to the problems women face in the context of women they know and love. It’s so encouraging to speak to men who recognise that sexual harassment needs calling out on behalf of all women – not just the ones they love. Better yet, this man dragged a friend over to chat too – perhaps reluctantly at first but after a short time he engaged in conversation with us too.

We were overwhelmed with pride for being a part of something people so obviously valued as important in a space full of people being authentically and unapologetically themselves.

Reclaim activist Phoebe (wo)mans the stall at Rebellion

Telling people about Reclaim Blackpool Map, physically showing them how it works and sharing stories from it felt beyond educational. We were being listened to, understood and celebrated and this was especially encouraging as so many of the people we engaged with were older men who valued what we were doing to bring about change for the generations who follow us.

We were overwhelmed with pride for being a part of something people so obviously valued as important in a space full of people being authentically and unapologetically themselves. The punks at Rebellion were some of the kindest and most receptive to our cause we’ve spoken to. It was not only empowering and validating to be involved in a community of people who care about what we have to say and do, it was reassuring that there’s plenty of likeminded people out there.

Rebellion was the perfect event for Reclaim to be a part of. You can’t be a feminist without being a little punk and you can’t be a true punk without being a feminist. The two are intrinsically connected and we can’t wait to Reclaim Rebellion again next year.

Share stories of sexual harassment in public places in Blackpool at reclaimblackpoolmap.co.uk. Watch BBC North West Tonight’s report on Reclaim Blackpool’s work with the alternative community below.


Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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