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Mind the Gap? September 11, 2005

Posted by Winter in the adventures of mind the gap.

It occurred to me the other day that, since we began this blog in June, Naiades and I have made no real effort to explain its purpose or give you any sense of context with regard to what we’re trying to do here. Why produce a single-issue feminist blog in Cardiff? Well this blog is actually only one aspect of our ongoing work to create a feminist group in Cardiff. Initially, we hoped that other group members would contribute but, for various reasons (shyness, lack of time, anxiety about writing in a public space), they have not yet felt able to do so. We’re still working on it. As time goes by, hopefully you will begin to hear other voices because we want this blog to help build the group and provide a space for members to express their personal feminism, and not just a place for Naiades and I to let off steam – much as we enjoy doing just that.

From now on we’re going to keep you updated with news on progress and the trials, tribulations and pleasures of trying to make a feminist group possible. I can assure you that any advice and comments will be very welcome.

Mind the Gap rose from the ashes of the old Cardiff University women’s group in September 2004. While the women’s group attracted some wonderful feminists, it never really took off for various reasons. In August 2004, one of the founding members, Liz, contacted Naiades and myself with the idea of resurrecting the group, but this time giving it a more officially feminist agenda. We needed a new name, she said, because “women’s group” could mean “sewing circle” or women’s union, for all anyone knew. I think it was she who came up with “Mind the Gap.” So, we wrote a manifesto and came up with some objectives:

“Mind the Gap is a Cardiff-based feminist group created to raise awareness and actively campaign on issues pertaining to sex and gender oppression and inequality. Campaigns may be conducted in response to local, national or global issues and events, but in each case the focus and nature of the campaign will be decided by group members together in a democratic fashion. To this end, we also hope to liaise with other relevant groups and organizations and invite guest speakers to join us. No less important is our aim to provide a safe, welcoming space for the discussion of gender politics and feminist ideas. To encourage new networks of friendship and mutual support among members, time will be made for fun events such as socials, outings and film nights. We hope to facilitate an empowering and supportive group dynamic which refuses the politics of victimization and believes in possibilities for resistance and change. Rejecting the norm of male domination, seeking to critique the effects of patriarchy on our lives, challenging stereotypes, and supporting equality of opportunity for all women, we will promote feminist activism in all its (non violent) forms. This group is open to women and men because it is central to our belief that gender equality and freedom from sexist oppression and exploitation will make the world a better place for everyone to live in.”

*That last sentence is inspired by a bell hooks quote: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”

The following year was difficult and exhausting. We applied to become a student union society, but soon found the amount of administrative work involved outweighed the advantages. Membership is extremely good for large student groups but, for a small liberation society like us, it was really quite nightmarish. In the first instance, we were told we had to find 20 members –all registered as full-time students at the university. Now, have any of you ever found 20 student feminists, from scratch, in one place at the same time? Somehow we managed to pull this off, but having applied late, we couldn’t get a stall at the societies fair and were seriously disadvantaged as a result. People just didn’t know we existed. Then the union demanded we attend societies meetings every two weeks, and do this and do that and…all in all, by June 2005, we felt we had spent far more time working for the union than we had actually creating our group. At this point we decided not to register as a student society again. In any case, we began to suspect that our identity as a “student” society was scaring off feminists in the wider community – the very people we needed to attract.

Within the group some of the biggest tensions arose over the insistence of some members (myself included) that we remain open to discussing all varieties of feminist thought and activism. Other people felt we ought to be more specific about the kind of feminist principles we were pursuing. Having my own strong opinions about what feminism should be doing, I certainly understand this point of view but, at the end of the day, Mind the Gap was intended as a discussion forum and support network for people who identify as feminists, and not to impose anybody’s views on anyone else. That said, this is not an easy dynamic to maintain. In our group we have positions ranging from radical, lesbian anarcha feminists to mainstream, basically liberal, feminists. Then there are young women just coming to feminism and they need space to read, think and develop in their own directions. How do you keep everybody happy? However, in a world in which feminism is becoming increasingly marginalised I do think we need to work to find as much solidarity and common ground as possible, accepting that we won’t agree about everything and respecting each others’ positions.

This year we aim to consolidate and expand our membership. Our biggest priority now is a proper public website, and hopefully we’ll get this up and running in the next couple of months. One of our biggest problems is publicity. Every time we gain a new member, they invariably tell us they’ve been looking for a feminist group for ages, but had no idea we existed. We can only assume there are more of them out there. This year we need to get better at postering the right places and making sure we keep on going back.

We have had our successes too. We set up our online Yahoo group which is still running well and now has over 20 members. We took part in two International women’s day events (another story in itself!). We have created links with Object, Truth About Rape and Cardiff Queer Mutiny.
Perhaps best of all, we started our body image zine project. The zine should be ready in a few weeks time and we’re going to upload most of the material here on the blog, so you will get to read the work of other group members. I think we’ll all feel a bit more positive once we’ve actually achieved something tangible. The other day I received a cheque in the post for £50 from a feminist who’d heard about our zine and wanted to support it. I’m stunned at the generosity and I guess it’s about time I opened a group bank account.



1. Andygrrl - September 11, 2005

Oh wow, have I been there. I was a member of my college’s chapter of Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. It was basically me as secretary and token dyke, and my five or six friends. Luckily we weren’t the original founders, so we didn’t have to go through all that bureaucratic shit, but it was terribly hard getting anything done or raising any money. We could never get membership up beyond 10 people. I’m still impressed by how much we managed to get done, working with the college Women’s Resource Center and the town chapter of NOW, but it was so tough. I was completely burned out by the time I graduated. There simply wasn’t anybody else to do the work. But it was probably one of the most important experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it or the friends I made for anything. Good luck to you guys; institutionalized student organizations aren’t exactly geared to foster liberation groups, but keep at it. You do make an impact, even if most of the time it feels like nobody’s paying any attention at all. Looking forward to your zine stuff!

2. Andygrrl - September 11, 2005

Oh, and I think your name kicks ass. Much better than FMLA (we called it “fem-la”).

3. Winter - September 11, 2005

Cheers! Does that sound familar R? Oh dear, I am actually the secretary and the..er..am I the token Dyke?? I guess the worst thing has been the feeling that we’ve been lurching from crisis to crisis, always moving one step forward and two back. Hopefully this academic year is going to be better.

4. Naiades - September 12, 2005

Sounds painfully familiar, I’m not sure I’d ever have the nerve, let alone actaully believeit, to call you a “token dyke”! although you are pretty much the person who does all the work!!I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved, it’s been hard going, and depressing at times, but worth it.

5. Winter - September 12, 2005

Hmm no it possibly wouldn’t be a good idea to say something like that to my face. Only kidding.

6. TP - September 12, 2005

I would love to be involved in a feminist group in my area. I don’t know if there are any (there are probably some associated with the unis but I have no idea if/where they exist).

I wouldn’t know where to start if I attempted to build one from scratch – the only other self proclaimed feminist I know is my boyfriend!

7. Naiades - September 12, 2005

You could try putting afew posters up on boards in community centres, art centres and librys, and set up an email accunt specifically for the group, then wait and see what happens. you might be surprised.

8. Naiades - September 12, 2005

that’s how the book group i go to got going

9. Anonymous - November 18, 2005

I’m in the process of setting up a feminist group in my extremely conservative city (Canterbury, UK) and it’s not going too badly. I put a few messages on feminist mailing lists asking if there were any feminists living in the Canterbury area and I got a few responses to my surprise. We’re having our first meeting tomorrow in a cafe in town. I’m not expecting too many people, maybe two or three, but that’s plenty to begin with. Even if we never get beyond 3 people I’ll be happy. I haven’t really advertised yet, so hopefully we’ll get some more members when that aspect gets sorted. Will report back in a few weeks to let you know how things are going.

– Aideen

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