In Conversation with fashion designer Alicja Czarnecka

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I met Alicja over a decade ago. As far as I could remember, she was an open minded, determined and passionate individual. So when I heard that she has started her own fashion line, I said to myself – I have to have a chat with this young lady about her fashion line, called DRESSI. Within a year Alicja has become a very successful clothes designer. She has appeared in prestigious Polish magazines such as Gala and Newsweek and on a well known Polish TV channel TVN. She also had her first catwalk organised in the capital of Poland, Warsaw, which is seen as the heart of Polish fashion. She is a mother to two wonderful little girls. I can’t imagine how she manages to combine both jobs! Full time mum and a designer, impressive if you asked me.

View of the Arts: First of all, could you tell me how DRESSI was founded and what was behind the project?

Alicja: I launched DRESSI to show that casual style can be combined with an elegant one. I have always enjoyed mixing these two styles, it’s comfortable and convenient for me as a mother. I remember I stood in front of my closet, full of clothes, however, I came to the conclusion that I did not have anything useful to wear. Nothing that would fit well and be comfortable at the same time. And then I wondered what I would like to wear that would make me feel great and fashionable so I came up with DRESSI.

View of the Arts: What inspires you when you design skirts, dresses and jackets?

Alicja: My main inspirations are European celebrities who show off their fashion style at big commercial events. By observing them, I think of my customers and how I would like them to look unusual and stunning. I want their style to have something of a stars’ elegance.

View of the Arts: Do you think you ought to have a formal education, e.g. a diploma from a fashion school, to design clothes?

Alicja: I do not think it’s necessary, I am the perfect example! However, I believe, at least in my case, that you should listen, take advice and suggestions from those who are professional in their field e.g. seamstress and other designers. You have to learn how to analyse each and every piece of advice that is given to you.

View of the Arts: What is so special about being a fashion designer?

Alicja: The nicest feeling of being a fashion designer is that when I see my lovely customers in my designed clothes my heart beats faster with an excitement. Also, satisfied customers make my work easier and more pleasant.

View of the Arts: Running your own fashion line must be hard. It involves primarily design, manufacture, sales, finance and advertising. Which of these five aspects, according to you, is the hardest to achieve?

Alicja: I can not really say which of these factors are harder to achieve. Each aspect is important and difficult, all you need to do is to plan and implement it consistently in your fashion line. You have to take each step into consideration very carefully if you want your company to prosper perfectly.

View of the Arts: Do you think that women have started to dominate the fashion world?

Alicja: I am not sure about that to be honest with you. It would depend on the country you live in. Eastern Europe has changed drastically in 1990s. We have opportunities to become someone big in the fashion world dominated by men. Now, in the 21st century, we are more independent and creative. Which definitely allows us to do significant things in our lives.

View of the Arts: In addition to DRESSI, you are also busy raising your two wonderful daughters. Tell me how do you cope? Is it all possible, being a designer and full time mum?

Alicja: This is probably the most difficult aspect of running the business, I must admit that it is really difficult to reconcile the responsibilities of running DRESSI and being mum to my lively little girls. Nevertheless, I always find strength, thanks to it my dreams are coming true.

I, personally, found Alicja’s designs super comfortable. I have a coat, which is wonderful and beautifully sewed. And it is the most cozy and fashionable thing in my huge wardrobe! Please do not ask me what else I have got in it. Have a look at Alicja’s website. It is in Polish, however, it can be easily translated into English by using Google translator. It is worth visiting!

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Roxy Simons

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Pictures courtesy of Alicja Czarnecka, http://www.dressi.pl and Newsweek

In Conversation with Vicki Psarias

Gilbert Adler,Producer ‘Superman Returns’,’Valkyrie’ once said:”Vicki’s a great director, drawing superb performances from her actors- a real talent to watch”.And sure she is a very talented young filmmaker.Her shorts won critical acclaim at international film festivals including prestigious Channel 4- 4 Talent Award in 2007 for the Best Filmmaker.I was very happy when Vicki Psarias agreed to answer few of my questions.

Maggie: You once said “My Dad, who was my cameraman, shot films for me with a VHS camera I begged him to hire”. Was this the main reason why you have become a filmmaker?

Vicki Psarias: From a young age, I did used to beg my Dad to hire VHS cameras-I think I really got a taste for filmmaking at 11 when my parents appeared on several episodes of BBC2′s Food and Drink.; The director really got me involved with the outside broadcasts and I loved everything about the shoots-it was such a dynamic, creative environment to be in. I used to shoot my own films whenever I could after that-they’re hysterical to watch now and pretty accomplished for my age which surprises me!

Maggie: You directed two amazing shorts ‘Rifts’ (2004),which was awarded for the Best Screenplay at the Portobello Film Festival and ‘Broken’ which was awarded by Channel 4 with the 4 Talent Award 2007 for the Best Filmmaker. I could actually recite all the awards that Broken received; however, I would need a half of a century for that. My question is: what inspired you to make ‘Broken’?

Vicki Psarias: Thank you, Rifts and Broken did pretty well on the festival circuit taking me all over the world and both are inspired by my British Cypriot community. Broken in particular tells the story of my mother arriving in the UK aged 12 so is somewhat of a family archive as much as a piece of drama. Rifts was my MA film made aged 22, and is about warring kebab shop owners-it’s currently being developed for TV.

Maggie: Apart from directing films, you are also involved in making commercials/ promos and music videos, which one is more exciting or easier to make?

Vicki Psarias: These tend me be quicker shoots and often bigger budgets. A lot of my drama work has taken a long time to finance especially as it’s indie filmmaking and for certain shorts like Broken I wanted to shoot on 35mm as it was a period piece so the budget had to accommodate that. There are pros and cons to everything-I love the fact you can push boundaries with music videos and have greater freedom. I have made quite a few social documentaries about children too and that responsibility to your subject/s makes the project not only a challenge but pretty moving too.

Maggie: Is there any other filmmaker that has or had an influence on your work?

Vicki Psarias: Too many to mention. I worked for Redbus (now Lionsgate UK) straight after my MA aged 22 and they were producing and distributing Bend it Like Beckham. I remember Gurinder Chadha being a huge role model for me-she was making commercial British ethnic films people wanted to see. Of course everyone from Scorcese to Andrea Arnold have inspired me.

Maggie: How do you generate new ideas?

Vicki Psarias: Usually just before I sleep, I can be found scribbling notes onto a pad by my bed. I think I take a lot of inspiration from my Big Fat Greek Family who are naturally very entertaining! I do believe though, the more you write, the more you write.

Maggie: London or Leeds? Which of these cities give more opportunities to the filmmakers?

Vicki Psarias: That’s a hard one as I moved to Leeds fairly established and I work in both cities. I write from home in Leeds and that’s the beauty of writing-you can do it anywhere. I think the fact the BBC have moved to Media City in Salford is great for the North and will bring with it many opportunities. I still work a lot in London though too, my directing work is still fairly London centric.

Maggie:What three pieces of advice would you give to mums who are filmmakers and struggle to cope with both. Is there any way of combining these two: being a mum and being a filmmaker?

Vicki Psarias: Of course. I never wanted to sacrifice having kids for my career and strongly feel you can juggle both. I have a lot of help from my family and childcare. Many women do it and more female writer/directors should feel confident to do so. It is tricky I know, especially tv directors who are on set constantly but my child is my life. I think having Oliver has made me a stronger director in every way from working with actors, drawing performances to my endurance on set. Not sleeping for a year makes you feel you can do anything!

Maggie: How does it feel to be a female filmmaker in the film industry? We all know that the industry is  pretty much dominated by men?

Vicki Psarias: Things are slowly improving- and I tend not to think in terms of gender to be honest. I disagree with positive discrimination-put my film in Cannes because you love it, not because there are not enough women competing. I think directing is so well suited to creative women-we can juggle so many balls at one time, constantly putting out fires and remaining dedicated to our vision. I really hope things will change.

Maggie: Are you working on any new projects at the moment?

Vicki Psarias: I always am-currently developing a tv project as well as this minute editing a promo which features some remarkable women including Ruby Wax and Sarah Brown. There’s always something bubbling away…

Vicki Psarias’ showreel
You can follow Vicki Psarias on  Twitter

Interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Posters by Vanessa Scott-Thompson

VICKI PSARIAS

***Winner of the Entertainment, Media and the Arts Category for the 2011 World Spread’s Square Mile 30 under 30 London Talent Awards in association with CNN***

***Listed in the Observer’s Courvoisier The Future 500 for outstanding individuals***

***WINNER Hellenic Foundation’s Art Award 2009 for exceptional merit in filmmaking***

***Highly Commended at the Red Magazine Red’s Hot Women Awards in association with Calvin Klein in the Creative Category 2009***.

**CHANNEL 4 4TALENT AWARDS 2007-Winner Best Filmmaker, hailed by the channel as ‘a future creative hero’ and ‘one to watch’ **

Picture of Vicki Psarias courtesy of Peter Broadbent

Women and the Olympics

It’s only a few weeks now to the start of the Olympics and how women perform and are represented should be interesting.

Team GB have some incredible women competing and medal hopes are high for women like Jessica Ennis and Rebecca Adlington. Unfortunately, for Adlington at least, her performance is sometimes overshadowed by abusive tweets about her appearance. It’s amazing that some choose to judge her on how attractive they think she is, rather than how amazing she is as an athlete but I really respect her for speaking up about it, and in one case retweeting an example to her 50,000 plus followers. Jessica Ennis has had to laugh off comments about her being ‘fat’, made by a ‘high-ranking’ official. The only appropriate response to that is laughter, as it’s so far from reality.

Femininity and sport is something that comes up time and again however. The ruling dictating that women badminton players must wear skirts was rescinded after an outcry last year but attempts were made earlier this year to do the same in boxing. 2012 will be the first year that women have been allowed to compete in boxing at the Olympics, but apparently there was concern that female boxers were indistinguishable from the men – as if people would be confused about what event they were at or, god forbid, actually enjoyed the match irrespective of who was in the ring. Again, this ruling has not gone ahead but it just goes to show how concerned the moneymakers in sport are that women don’t look ‘feminine’ enough (ie attractive to men).

Femininity has taken on another dimension for women in South Africa, especially in the aftermath of the publicity surround Caster Semenya. When Semenya won the World Champtionship in 2008 allegations were rife that she was a man. Much public speculation followed and she was subjected to testing, while suspended from competing. Although the results of the tests were never made public she has been cleared to compete and all previous results stand. It’s an issue which continues to come up in South Africa in particular as ‘an estimated 1 per cent of the 50 million people [there] are born “intersex,” meaning they don’t fit typical definitions of male or female’. For more on this issue, I recommend this fascinating article on The Toronto Star’s website.

Of course, all of the above is about women who will be competing at the Olympics. For some, that remains a pipe dream. The IOC have been under pressure to sanction Saudi Arabia who have now ruled out sending any women to the Olympics at all.  This is in direct violation of the Olympic Charter, but no action has been taken against them. Women’s rights there may have come a long way but there is still clearly reluctance to treat them as equals, especially in a public arena such as the Olympics. It’s a real shame the IOC haven’t followed this through and prevented the men from competing as a result, as it would have sent a very clear message that they take this kind of issue seriously. The Saudi Olympic committee did leave it open for women to compete on their own, not endorsed by them, but they have also been refused permission to compete under the Olympic flag as officials claim there is still some hope in resolving the issue. Time is running out however.

For those of us attending as spectators instead of competitors, we can only hope that the directors of the television footage think us attractive enough for those lingering shots of women that we’ve seen during the Euro 2012 competition. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Huffington Post has assembled a gallery of the 82 most attractive women captured by the cameramen (I’m assuming men here).

In spite of my cynicism, I am really looking forward to the Olympics in London. I have tickets for events at both the Olympics and Paralympics and hope it will be an amazing few weeks in London. I will also however have a keen eye on the issues surround the women taking part, hopefully celebrating quite a few of them in the process.

Can feminists wear engagement rings?

I recently came across a blogpost (dating from 2010) written by a woman who had recently got engaged but was not going to wear an engagement ring. The post had been linked to on a Facebook group, where quite a lively discussion had developed about the tradition of wearing them. I found it pretty interesting, so linked to it in the Sharing Thoughts & Taking Action forum where a similar debate broke out, which I’ll admit surprised me.

The original blogpost was fairly reasonable. Rather than having strong feminist objections to wearing an engagment ring, the writer seemed to feel a) that it was too much money to spend on a ring, and as a couple they could do more interesting things with it, b) she didn’t like to wear expensive jewellery in general and c) she had ethical objections to diamonds – all of which are fair enough. However more feminist arguments against rings were made on the forum.

In the interests of disclosure, I’ll first state I wear an engagement ring. When it was given to me, I didn’t debate whether to wear it or wrestle any feminist demons. My excitement about it, and love of the ring, may have been coloured by the fact that my (now) husband had spent six months designing it to be something to give me as a token of how much he loved me. I love it, and it’s a daily reminder of how happy I am to be with him.

Not long afterwards a work colleague, who was fairly new to the company and barely knew me personally, asked me if I felt uncomfortable wearing it and did I not see it as a symbol of my fiance’s ‘ownership’ of me. I dismissed the comments at the time and told her that because my fiance could never view me that way, it wasn’t an issue in my relationship. But it niggled. Inside, I was pretty pissed off that someone viewed my decision that way and I felt like she was calling into question my feminist credentials -who did she think she was? She didn’t even know me well enough to know that I would identify as a feminist. I thought it was rude.

However, as a teenager I’m sure I viewed things differently. I used to say that I wouldn’t get married at all. The phrase ‘legalised slavery’ may have been uttered (embarrassing) and I would probably have been horrified by the idea of wearing an engagement ring. But that was at a stage when I’d never had any relationships, let alone serious ones, and didn’t understand that your relationship with your partner is what you both make it. The roles you adopt, whether traditional or not, are up to you. If you feel like someone’s property, or feel like a domestic slave, then that’s because the role you have in that specific relationship has left you feeling that way – not because you wear a ring.

Engagement rings were traditionally given as a symbol of a promise of commitment. It marked the woman out as being off the market and the money spent by the groom-to-be meant that they were not given lightly. It’s in this light, that some of the objections to engagement rings are made now. Only the women wear them and the men are expected to spend a lot of money on them. The woman wears it as a symbol of being ‘taken’ (which could be perceived as belonging to someone else) and the man shows his provider credentials by flashing cash. It’s old school, no doubt. But is it really anti-feminist to wear one? Is it, as one of the forum members claimed, an attempt to ‘cherry pick’ the things we liked about traditional female roles and while fighting against the rest?

Many women I know bought their fiances a gift in return, like a really nice watch for example. The symbol may not be as obvious to everyone else, but it redressed the balance in their relationship in a way that made them happy. I suppose for me, this is what’s key. How you view an engagement ring is coloured by the context of your relationship. Because I feel like an equal partner in mine, I didn’t strongly feel that wearing a ring threatened that. Also, it was only for 10 months that I wore a ring and he didn’t – by last July we were married and both wearing wedding rings. In any case, I think my evolving sense of myself and my views on feminism have left me just not feeling that strongly about this issue. What I do in my relationship is up to me, and how I choose to express my position in that relationship is my own business. I am a feminist. And a wife. With two rings.

In Conversation with Spanish director Amancay Tapia

Amancay Tapia is a young Spanish director whose first feature film Battlefield was commercially released in Bolivia in January 2011 and in Spain in March 2012. It was also shown in London at Occupy LSX, The Bolivar Hall and Passing Clouds as well as at several UK Universities, such as Bath University and Goldsmiths College. The film won the Best Foreign Film Award at the Portobello Film Festival in London. I was delighted when Amancay agreed to meet me and have a chat about her work as a filmmaker and actress.

Maggie: For those who don’t know you, can you tell me what you do?

Amancay: I am a filmmaker, I write and direct films. Sometimes I act in my own movies.

Maggie: Which one is harder for you: to be an actress, writer or director?

Amancay: I think being a writer is the hardest. It is all about looking for a good story line and than transfer it onto paper.

Maggie: So how long does it take you to write a story?

Amancay: It takes a long time. Once I get a story, it takes me two months to write it but then to rewrite it is a different matter; it may take me even a year to finish.

Maggie: You made a few short films such as The Invisible Woman, The Invisible Man and Harbour Island (The Bahamas): The Girl on Holiday. You also directed your first feature film ‘Battlefield’. You used a shoe-string budget of around €7000. How did you manage to do that ?

Amancay: ‘Battlefield’ was my first feature film. I made it in Bolivia in 2008 and it was first released there in January 2011. It took me a few years before I could screen it anywhere else. It’s a fully independent film and with our €7000 budget we did everything: it was pretty impressive. I also left London for four months just to make the film in Bolivia. Battlefield is about 5 women trying to kill their time in a beauty salon while on the street of La Paz, Bolivia, the troubles caused by the coca war break out; the women have different attitudes, characters and simply don’t get along with each other.

(Tapia arrived in La Paz in late 2008 looking for actors, crew and locations. She had three months to shoot the movie and little time to waste)

Maggie: So your film was released in Bolivia, Spain, Colombia and the UK. Battlefield was the winner of the Best Foreign Film at the Portobello Film Festival in London. How did you feel about the award?

Amancay: I was very happy; the whole journey was a battle to me so winning the award felt good. The Portobello Film Festival is a great place for indie films to be screened.

Maggie: Do you think that there is a future for independent films?

Amancay: Yes I do, there is always a market for innovative stories.

Maggie: What’s next for you?

Amancay: I am working on a short film called ‘Thou shalt not covet’ which is inspired by my previous short film ‘The Invisible Woman’. I am also writing another feature film, it’s a contemporary one. At the same time I am working on another project, the story is set between London and Bolivia. So as you can see I keep myself busy.

Amancay is one of those directors who is passionate about their work. It was a great pleasure chatting to her.

Interviewed and written by Maggie Gogler

In Conversation with jewellery artist: Manolo

 

 

It was a lovely and pleasant day for an interview with an amazing and talented artist Manolo (Manolo’s real name is Marta Chojnacka). We met at the Tate Modern Art Gallery and decided to chill out on a balcony with a stunning view over the Thames River. It’s always been my pleasure to interview artists. I find them extremely fascinating and interesting. Their way of thinking seems to be coming from a place that is unknown to us.

I’ve first met Manolo at the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre. I was blown away by her creativity and talent.After the festival I was keen on talking to Manolo again and asking her few questions regarding her art work. Marta received MA in Painting and Drawing from University of Warmia and Mazury in Poland. She currently lives in London where she works and creates her amazing jewellery.

Maggie: Marta tell me all about your art work, when did you start and what was behind your inspiration?

Manolo: I’ve started few years ago after discovering a very interesting method called laser cut. I’ve been making jewellery using my own drawings as a template for the laser cut. I was always fascinated and inspired by Pedro Almodovar’s ( Spanish film director) female characters. In my view his women represent a complete picture of the female; a woman full of drama,gossiping and drinking red wine.They are real and truthful to what and who they are.I’m also inspired by a French painter and illustrator Henrie de Toulouse-Lautrec. He was masterly at capturing crowd scene in which the figures,especially females, were highly individualized.

Maggie: Why did you choose the name Manolo?

Manolo: It’s simple name, I wanted a memorable one. The name that would stay in people’s mind for awhile.

Maggie: What is so special about your little creations?

Manolo: I love making females and males characters. Each and every piece has its own story to tell, for example: Francesca -gold and walnut brooch;her father was a diamond and gold mining entrepreneur. She likes luxury,truffles and champagne.My customers like to identify themselves with jewellery they are interested in purchasing.As far as I’m concerned they are satisfied with brooches they have bought.

Francesca

Maggie: Apart from making brooches you have been keen on creating earring and necklaces.

Manolo: Yes, I have got customers who are not only interested in buying brooches but also in having different type of jewellery such as earrings or necklaces.Ladies seem to like it.I am really grateful for their positive feedback and encouragement.

Maggie: You are a professional painter, have you ever considered a career as the painter?

Manolo: Yes, one day for sure. It’s my passion so it will never go away. I am very much into making my jewellery at the moment.

Maggie: I wish you all the best and looking forward to your new collection.

Manolo: Thank you very much it should be out soon.

If you wanted to see all of Manolo’s collection take a look at her website, or find her work on etsy, Urban Designs or Vanilla Ink Studios.

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler, lead blogger for View of the Arts.

The case for and against pornography

I’ve been blogging about feminist issues for just under a year now but there’s one topic I’ve studiously avoided in that time – pornography. In some ways it’s because I can convince myself that it doesn’t affect my life. I don’t watch it. I don’t purchase it. I’ve never been with a partner that, to my knowledge, consumes it. However, I know it’s an area of contention and debate in feminism and have always thought I should at least put it out there for discussion.

My big problem is that I don’t know where to start. I’m confused about it and the issues surrounding it. I don’t believe that just because I don’t enjoy it, everyone who does is wrong. I believe in people having healthy sexual appetites and if watching other people engaged in sex is something that works for you, go for it. However I’m not blind to the fact that what was previous soft porn is now just the front covers of mainstream ‘lads mags’ like Nuts and more worringly what was previously considered hardcore, niche-interest is now mainstream. And what is mainstream is more easily available than ever before – online and on mobile phones – which means that instead of passing around copies of Playboy in school, young men are seeing quite skewed versions of sexuality and believing it to be what ‘normal’ sex is supposed to be like.

On a gut level my feelings about porn have always been that it tends to subordinate women. Porn is largely created for and by men and so has little regard for how women are portrayed. As an industry it makes billions from the objectification of women – so much so that when the US government was bailing out the car industry, the porn industry argued that they should receive help as well as they were one of ‘our nation’s most important businesses’. On the flipside, I don’t believe in banning things that I’m uncomfortable with. I’d rather people were educated about an issue to the extent that they choose, by and large, not to participate in things which adversely affect others so badly.

With all this in mind, I was really disappointed to miss the WOW Festival session on Mary Whitehouse – Prude or Prophet (there was so much I wanted to see that weekend that some sessions just clashed). Fortunately for me, the session was one of the ones filmed and uploaded to the site afterwards. I was interested to hear that the prime reason for holding that particular debate was that Jude Kelly was as confused as I am. She had grown up in an era of censorship. As the world became more liberal the mood of society became one where people should feel entitled to learn about things on their own, and that nothing should be hidden from them. Mary Whitehouse became a lone voice, and a figure of fun, in the way she argued that women would be debased and disgraced by the way they were beginning to be portrayed and would rue the day that they allowed this to happen. Jude Kelly hated everything she stood for. But now? She was beginning to wonder if Whitehouse had had a point all along. The portrayal of women in mainstream porn, and in fact in much modern media has in fact left us feeling objectified and judged. So now, Kelly said she didn’t know what she felt and wanted to learn more.

The panel was made up of Kelly, Rachel Morris (Cosmopolitan‘s resident sex therapist), Amina Doherty (co-ordinator of the Young Feminist Fund) and Julia Long (feminist activist involved with the London Feminist Network and Object) and was chaired by Helena Kennedy QC. It was a lively and really interesting discussion with plenty of input from the floor.

Amina Doherty really impressed me with her confidence and her assertion that what young women need is space to talk about and develop a healthy, sexual identity. Being aware of the good and bad that’s out there is okay as long as they have space to talk openly and freely about it and be educated about what it all means to them. Encouraging critical engagement was key.

Julia Long probably took what I would interpret to be a more expected, feminist line. She quoted examples of what is considered mainstream in porn these days and the mere descriptions brought tears to my eyes and prompted me to cross my legs. She also made the good point that discussions of porn have, as Jude Kelly pointed out, been often painted as good versus bad morality. The common ground on both sides of the fence be they pro-sex, freedom of expression, liberal views or anti-porn, repressive, moralistic views is that women are oppressed – they are an economic commodity to be bought and sold. Food for thought.

Rachel Morris approached the discussion from the perspective of someone who’s not an academic or expert on this, but who does deal with the effects that porn and the objectification of women has on our culture. The letters she gets from women are laden with expectations of what their sexual experiences should be like, which are directly taken from porn culture. Women think their vaginas are hideous, their labia too big or malformed. Men don’t ‘do’ pubes anymore and so women feel pressure to be hairless. She strongly felt that if she was a young woman, what she would need is for someone like her to be teaching sex education in schools.

Needless to say one of the big points discussed was censorship. We’re all nervous of it and for those of us who are liberal, it feels wrong to censor what consenting adults want to see or engage in. However, Julia Long felt that women were being censored anyway, as their voices are not being heard (she quoted women’s disappearance from mainstream media as a related issue). Amina agreed that women are silenced and that porn is produced from the male gaze. However, she really wants young women to engage in the discussion and embrace positive sexuality. Claire Short’s campaign to end Page 3 was raised, along with her subsequent vilification in the media. All the panellists agreed that this had contributed to women feeling fearful to speak out.

A question from the floor supported Julia’s stance on possible censorship – we already have rules that limit what we can see as well as rules against racial hatred. Why did rules like this not apply to gender hatred? Why could the more hardcore content, which could be construed as torture, not be restricted or banned completely? The simple answer, from Helena Kennedy, is that it’s an industry that makes an awful lot of money and needs to be tackled on that basis.

Another question from the floor raised a real crux of the debate – consent. If women do want to be in these films, or engage in these acts, who are we to stop them? Of course, ‘choice’ is informed by our culture and life experience but some women really do choose these actions. Julia Long felt that consent and freedom of expression dialogue is usually brought out as a ‘get out of jail free’ card to silence criticism. I thought this was an interesting point. Choice is not always about personal rights but personal responsibilities – we need to view our choices in the context of how our actions affect society at large. The power relationships and submission of women in our society is normalised and played out in pornography. Choosing to be in, or even create, these films may have a detrimental effect on many other women – and our society restricts individual freedoms all the time to protect potentially vulnerable people in our society. Incitement to racial hatred is an example of this as we restrict people’s ‘right’ to say what they like, for the sake of protecting ethnic minorities in our culture.

There was so much more in this discussion and more themes to come back to. The possibility of feminist pornography – created for and by women – was not raised, as an hour was just not long enough to cover everything. Did I leave this session clearer about what I thought? I’m not sure I did really. I take on board everything Julia Long said about power relationships and the silencing of women. I’m also personally horrified by the idea of young men viewing some of what’s now mainstream and pressurising young women to engage in these acts during their early sexual experiences, as they convince them that it’s ‘normal’ sex. However, I really respected Amina Doherty’s view of the need for education. We need to give young people the space and the language to openly discuss healthy, sexual appetites and to create a positive idea of what sexuality means to them. I’d like to think that this is what will ultimately change people’s appetites for pornography. I’m still uncomfortable with banning certain pornography as it’s difficult to draw a line between what’s acceptable and what’s not and I worry, as Jude Kelly does, about it opening the door to repression. I would love to find ways to limit young people’s access to it however and I think parents need to be much more involved and in control of their teenagers access to the internet. There’s so much more to say and I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on the issue. Let’s keep talking about how this affects us as adults.