Women Talk Back!
Attendees Experiences of Women Talk Back!
Below we have reproduced a few recent, anonymised testimonials of women who attend Women Talk Back! and the impact the student society has in their lives. These are the testimonies of women from all walks of life, as we are determined to welcome all women regardless of student status, age, income or social background.
Attendee Number One: "I am a social worker living, working and studying in Bristol. Part of my day job involves direct work with perpetrators and victims of male violence. For me, it is invaluable to have a space to process feelings of anger, powerlessness and solidarity with other women. Not only that, it's incredibly encouraging to have a community with so many inspiring women who have been empowered to create real change.
In this space I feel valued and heard. I have found friendships with women who I would not have met if it were not for the group. This university society has advanced my critical thinking, reflection and debating skills and has made feminism very accessible for me."
Attendee Number Two: “Being a survivor of sexual violence is challenging, and it becomes paramount to have a supportive network. For me, this supportive network took the form of the discussion group enabled by Women Talk Back! The existence of Women Talk Back! literally kept me alive. The nurturing environment of non-judgmental listening and insightful reflections provided a much needed oasis out of the male-violence-filled world that I used to inhabit before WTB!
Talking with the women in the group has been a turning point in my healing journey. The main aspect that enables such powerful connections and dialogues is the fact that this is a women-only space, and the main reason why it became a beacon of light for me when I was most vulnerable.”
Attendee Number Three: “Single-sex spaces are important to me as a biological woman. We live in a man’s world, and therefore part of being a girl and a woman is learning how to cope with living in a world that was not built for you. It is rare to find spaces that are only for women, and even mixed spaces tend to be male-dominated. We wanted to create a group where women could discuss their thoughts and feelings in relation to this, and other feminist issues, without the presence of the male gaze.
Women Talk Back! has given me, and dozens of other women, the rare opportunity of being
able to speak freely and openly about the traumas that result from living in a Patriarchy. It is
the only feminist space I have come across that allows members to speak however they want (whilst being respectful to other members). We do not believe in policing the language of other women, regardless of how much we may disagree with them. Further, it is not a ‘safe-space’ in the contemporary sense because we do not censor the opinions of our members.
However, I believe that this makes it safer than any ‘safe-space’ ever could be because we
can speak truthfully, knowing that we will be accepted and most likely understood by the
women in that circle. The discussions are powerful, heated, and often emotionally draining, as women of all backgrounds open up about their experiences that they’ve felt they couldn’t
share anywhere else. I believe in the idea that protected groups should be allowed to meet
and organise exclusively, and the Equality Act (2010) agrees. Further, I would strongly
encourage trans-women to also create spaces for themselves where they can meet
exclusively, to reap benefits similar to those of the attendees of our group.”
Attendee Number Four: “I have been going to the Women Talk Back Sunday night meetings for several months. I appreciate them so much. As an elder woman (73) it has been wonderful to be able to talk with women of all ages with freedom of expression and respect. Our discussions are really wide ranging, but I feel one of the particular advantages for me is that younger women can hear some oral history of women’s struggles (none of which I would feel able to talk about in front of males), and also I feel able to talk to the other women there about how their lives are now in the 21st century.
Not being able to meet in real life during lockdown has been a great loss, as sharing deep and often painful experiences isn’t really something to be doing via zoom, and the enduring emotional support we are able to give each other in the group is really missed. I honestly believe that having this group is both educational and very helpful for women’s mental health needs.”
Attendee Number Five: “Meeting in a female-only space helps me to form connections between my experiences and those of other women. This shared sense of solidarity helps me to feel less isolated and make sense of areas of my life as well as process them. It has enabled me to locate responsibility for incidents of misogyny outside of myself rather than internalising them leading to feelings of shame and self-blame.
I am aware that some men, trans and non-binary people may be sympathetic to my views,
however, their experience of and relationship to femininity will be different from mine. I
welcome discussion around dismantling patriarchy with people of all genders but am also
aware that the way I communicate is impacted by the identity of those around me. This
creates an additional barrier to discussing issues relating to sexism that still feel forbidden to
Attendee Number Six: "I would like to say how much I enjoy the Women Talk group at the Multifaith Chaplaincy. It's a great opportunity to meet women of all ages engaging with education, work, spirituality and relationships as females together, as women have always done in one way or another. I'm 54 and, for me, it breaks down barriers and isolation between women of different faiths, histories and life stages and is encouraging, inspiring and reassuring.
I do hope Lockdowns can be lifted so we can meet again or enjoy speakers like the ones on feminist writers or support for women recovering from violence. Thanks for your important work."
Attendee Number Seven: “I had been looking for a women’s group or women’s circle to attend in Bristol as I have a friend who had talked about how rewarding her women’s group had been for her. My experience of attending the meetings was very positive. I was impressed by how warm and friendly the hosts (Raquel and Diana) were and how open and honest the conversation was.
During the meetings women were given the space to share very personal, sometimes very upsetting, stories and to talk about them through a feminist lens. Due to the historical shame and stigma around topics such as women’s bodies and sexuality, it was important for me to have the opportunity to discuss these sensitive issues in a female-only space. Growing up as a young girl in a sexist society has had a profound impact on my life experiences. It has been eye-opening and healing to be able to compare and contrast my own experiences with other women. It has been particularly interesting to understand how my experiences of female social conditioning compare with women from other generations and even other continents.”
Attendee Number Eight: “I have been a grateful participant in the single sex meetings set up for women by students at Bristol university, and found them enlightening, liberating, refreshing as well as emotionally challenging thanks to the harrowing testimonies of my sisters of all ages and ethnicities. This is not and has never been a 'safe space' in the current sense of never saying anything upsetting or 'triggering' but it has been all the better for that. Rather, it has been one of the safest and most supportive spaces I have ever occupied, as I have been able to talk freely for the first time, sometimes about my own traumatic experiences, in the company of women who understand, really understand, due to their own experiences as females living in a patriarchal society. These spaces where women are allowed that precious boundary of a place to talk and support without male presence are rare and becoming rarer still at a time when they are needed most of all. This is not a coincidence.
If you have experienced trauma at the hands of males, be that violence, sexual abuse or rape, or the relentless 'death from a thousand cuts' of everyday sexism and misogyny, spaces like these are an absolute lifeline. No one who is not female can ever understand what it is like to inhabit a female body, even if they reject their male one. We could not discuss topics that centre the female experience like menstruation, menopause, pregnancy or miscarriage without self-censure in the presence of males. Perhaps this had always been the point. That our meetings may come to a close on the basis of 'bigotry' is a cruel joke and one that will have lasting detrimental effects on all who attended and felt the friendship and support of human beings who truly 'get' them. No other oppressed group ever gets asked to moved aside for another, and make no mistake, from what I have heard inside the four walls of our meeting space, there is no doubt as to the terrible levels of oppression we as a sex class face, and because of our sex class.”
For more testimonials about women who have attended our meetings: