Café Feministique – Finding Feminism in Hyde Park Book Club’s Basement

The Gryphon writer Annabel Martin shares her experience of attending a Café Feministique event.

I spent my Sunday afternoon in the basement of Hyde Park Book Club eating woman-shaped Haribos; doodling on tablecloths and chatting with women, young and old, across candlelight. This was all accompanied by a disco ball ever so slightly rotating, creating a sense of intimacy in the windowless room. I laughed, I cried and left feeling high on oestrogen.

I spent my Sunday afternoon at a Café Feministique event, hosted by Women Conversation: Leeds. The two-hour session (which was free of charge and operates on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis) provided a space for women to discuss and connect over the topic of feminism. Feminism has become more openly discussed over the past few years (with Donald Trump’s actions arguably acting as a catalyst for this), and Café Feministique enables women with the same fundamental beliefs to delve deeper into the topic and discover where differing opinions regarding feminism occur. Surprisingly, the actions of President Trump did not get brought up as often as I had thought and for this I was grateful; I had not consumed nearly enough coffee to fuel the expression of my passionate views regarding the Leader of the Free World.

In all honesty, I was unsure what I was truly going to gain from this session – I could not have possibly predicted the range of emotions that I felt once the event drew to a close. Intimate human interactions with strangers are a rarity in our society, partly due to the increased use of social media and being merely ‘connected’ virtually. This was perfectly evidenced by the two-minute initial icebreaker, where giggled hellos were followed by awkward laughter as we had to stand up and speak to as many people as possible. When was the last time you (soberly) struck up a conversation with a complete stranger?

Being in a room with thirty women speaking so candidly illustrated that human vulnerability is not a weakness; it should instead be seen as a strength. It undoubtedly takes a certain level of bravery to be open and authentic with others, and as recent events portrayed in our media have shown us, there has never been a time where this bravery is more crucial. I found myself profoundly moved when a mother confided in the group that she felt guilty for going back to university after having children and consequently left; I then found myself in a state of awe when one woman touched on rape and stated that “his desires are not your responsibility” – the succinctness of her comment left me speechless. I found myself feeling strong and refreshed as a result of being surrounded by such supportive women. In a society where women are so often pinned against each other, it felt heart-warming and wholesome to be in such a positive, female-centric environment.

During every discussion, you could feel the energy in the room intensifying as women empathised with and listened to one another and agreed that they have the right to feel angry, sad and every other human emotion under the sun. I came to realise that having spaces like Café Feministique is important not only to encourage dialogue and to connect like-minded individuals but also for mental wellbeing; I left the Hyde Park Book Club’s basement feeling electric and inspired. This feeling was cemented as one woman declared that she found the session exciting since the younger women who attended made her feel like “the reigns of womanhood are being passed into safe hands.”

Contrary to what some may think, the session did not involve any bra-burning or plaiting of pubic hair but instead allowed women to connect on a deep yet refreshing level. Women could embrace the fact that they are not alone. Wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “feminist” and posting pictures with the caption “freethenipple” may have the intention of supporting the feminist movement, however actively leaving your phone at home and going to discuss your views face-to-face is arguably more constructive and illustrates an enthusiastic dedication to the cause. We too often get caught up in our social bubbles with people who have the same beliefs as ourselves, which can stunt our growth and development as individuals when we perceive our beliefs as societal norms. Café Feministique provides what we are all currently lacking – an environment to connect with other individuals on a deeper level, as well as with yourself. I will most definitely be attending their next session on Monday 10th December, where they’ll be rounding off 2018 by discussing the stories of women over the past century. I experienced the power of sisterhood at Café Feministique and for that, I am very grateful.

Annabel Martin