The female voice is once again screaming to be heard, from campaigns such as #metoo and #timeisup, to protests on anti-abortion and backlash against misogyny. Although this year marks 100 years since some women received the right to vote, there has been a rise in frustrated women expressing the right to be heard. Women artists have always operated on the margins and have been disproportionately underrepresented despite female undergraduates outnumbering male. The Freelands Foundation study in 2017 found that 59% of the highest paid arts academic staff were male, only 22% of London’s major institutions had female solo shows and Arts Council England reported only a fifth of English theatres are led by women. This has increased a demand for female-inclusive spaces and support of women-led initiatives such as Tate Exchange, Gorilla Girls and iQhiya working to address this imbalance, but what about on a grassroots, local level? Liverpool’s We Want Women is one such organisation aiming to address this.
We Want Women started in October 2016 as an open mic night; spurned from its creator singer/songwriter Nicola Hardman ‘s own experience of an industry saturated with men, it aims to give women in the performing art scene an opportunity to showcase their work in a safe and encouraging environment. From there, it has grown to monthly events with most recent edition in August including: Sally Anne Tapia-Bowes (poet) Succour Punch Theatre (actors), Emma Seasman (comic, poet and founder of Maiden Tales; a similar women’s event ), Lucy Piskervance (artist and poet), Emily Callacher (musician), One Cool Poet (spoken word), CassioOpeia (photographer and poet) and Dawn and the Embers (musicians).
Interestingly, Succour Punch Theatre is another group trying to topple the male saturation of the art world by providing a similar space as We Want Women where new and emerging Liverpool actors can perform. The group discuss and challenge important social, sexual and gender injustices, with a particular focus on feminist agendas, aiming to break down misconceptions surrounding the word ‘feminist’ whilst supporting fellow women. Their We Want Women performance showcased snippets from their upcoming November show Stripped, exploring a range of issues relating to women from misconceptions of feminism to stereotypes of women, and featured a poignant and topical sketch on abortion as told by the woman affected.
This performance set the tone for the evening, with female artists coming together to express their experiences of being a woman, whilst developing their own craft within an inclusive space that builds up confidence. The range of issues discussed was empowering, and even as an audience member I felt included in this network of talented women. For example One Cool Poet’s spoken word piece on male suicide and the women left behind was emotive and thought provoking, whilst Emma Seasman’s comic performance shed light on the challenges and experiences of her disability. The event also provides inspiration for up-and-coming talent such as Emily Callacher, who at just 16 has incredible musical and songwriting abilities which shone through in her performance. We Want Women’s support of female artists empowers them to develop and progress, and this is what makes this event so important for women in the arts.
What was most inspiring at We Want Women was the fact it was not only an inclusive and safe space, but it offers performers the chance to be part of a network of female artists in Liverpool. This highlights the importance of community and support among women if they are to make radical changes within the art world. The night’s own expansion from an open mic to an organisation with a high demand for slots, is testament to these artist’s desire to break free and take charge of the disparity within the creative sector. Liverpool is at the forefront of this change and hopefully grassroots organisations like this will filter through into larger institutions, making a positive change for women in the arts.
Claire Walker is a writer based in Wigan.