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Stoke Newington Literary Festival: Sex lives and equality of English women

PUBLISHED: 16:00 01 June 2017 | UPDATED: 16:00 01 June 2017

Wendy Jones, author of The Sex Lives of English Women

Wendy Jones, author of The Sex Lives of English Women

Archant

Zoe Paskett talks to author Wendy Jones and campaigner and Women's Equality Party candidate Nimco Ali, both speaking at Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Nimco Ali is standing as Women's Equality Party candidate in Hornsey and Wood GreenNimco Ali is standing as Women's Equality Party candidate in Hornsey and Wood Green

Wendy Jones feels unshockable.

“I do feel I’ve heard it all,” she says. “I don’t judge any woman now. I think it’s so complex for every woman, what they’re negotiating and I think women are extraordinary – all of them.”

The Caledonian Road author of The Sex Lives of English Women: Intimate Questions and Unexpected Answers is speaking at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival on Saturday about her book and “how much women need space to be themselves, and often in society they have very little space.”

The book documents her conversations with English women about their sexuality.

“Women in our society don’t have space to talk honestly about their sexuality without needing to prove anything or please anybody and I very much wanted to listen to them,” she says.

“I didn’t want to write a book where people were told how to be women, nobody needs to be told how to be a woman, but I do think we need to listen to women to give them the freedom to talk.”

She interviewed 27 women between 19 and 94, publishing 24 of the interviews. They are all completely anonymous and show the range of sexual experience among normal women in England. She is adamant that, while they are all individual, they speak for many thousands of women.

“I could go into Stoke Newington Literary Festival and find 27 English women over 18 and I’d have an equally as varied book,” says Jones.

“People think I went out and found the most extreme women I could possibly find. I completely didn’t! If I showed you a picture of those women, you would never, ever guess who was who.

“This is what’s going on with women really: loads and loads and loads of sex. They are really quite normal women. There are massive amounts of sex, massive amounts of pain, of sexual abuse, of extreme sex, of public sex.”

Finding women through friends of friends, charities and simply approaching them in the street, Jones began to learn endless new things about other women’s experiences. But above all she learned how much she could find out about a person by listening.

“It’s not usual for people to really talk about themselves for hours on end. It’s a rare experience, so when people are offered that, so much comes out.

“I was surprised, I was shocked, I heard things I’d never heard, I was upset, I thought it was hilarious, I was moved, I was angry, I was politicised. Everything. I had a lot of responses.

She adds: “Women’s sexuality is a very, very powerful force in our society which is denigrated rather than honoured.”

Sex Lives of English Women is at the Unitarian Chapel in Newington Green at 11am on Saturday June 2 (£4).

Nimco Ali is a black, muslim woman and former refugee – not your average description of a politician.

But she is hoping that this election could change that

Ali is running as the Women’s Equality Party candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, and is joined at Stoke Newington Lit Fest by party founder Catherine Mayer and candidate for Vauxhall Harini Iyengar to talk about their attempts to open politics up to greater diversity.

“I was at a hustings the other day and I was sitting there and I could feel the tension,” says Ali, “and I was thinking to myself, even if you fear losing to me, or you fear the fact that I might take some of your votes, can you at least not be happy about the fact that a young black girl who was a former refugee who could have died from a horrific form of gender based violence is actually sitting next to you?”

Suffering female genital mutilation (FGM) at the age of seven, Ali later helped launch the campaign that brought FGM to the forefront of the public mindset with a petition to the Home Office that gained more than 110,000 signatures.

She has been called anti-feminist for standing against a woman - despite being a candidate for a party calling for equality between genders.

“While we talk about Brexit, austerity, we’re forgetting that 51 per cent of the population are constantly left behind.”

Breaking Open The Club with Nimco Ali, Catherine Mayer and Harini Iyengar is at the Unitarian Chapel at 3pm on Sunday June 4 (£5).

The eighth annual Stoke Newington Literary Festival runs from Friday June 2 to Sunday June 4, with events happening all over.

On Saturday at Stoke Newington Town Hall Owen Jones (6pm) gives some last-minute clarity on the upcoming election and comedian Mark Thomas talks about his new book The Liar’s Quartet (8pm).

The African Food Revolution, led by Zoe Adjonyoh and Lope Ariyo, hopes to give African cuisine the recognition it deserves at St Paul’s Church (12pm).

Derek Wiltshire and Reckless Rai from award nominated Mostly Lit podcast host Jeffrey Boakye and a special guest for Music, Masculinity and Millennials in which they discuss grime and hip hop in the UK, investigating how they represent racial and gender archetypes (3pm).

DJ Gemma Cairney and journalist and musician Rhyannon Styles talk about the flux of identity and embracing these changes in Life in Flux at the Unitarian Chapel (5pm).

On Sunday, journalists Jonathan Freedland, Richard T Kelly and Terry Stiasny talk Politics: Fact or Fiction at Abney Hall (1pm). Later on, the same venue hosts Gary Younge and Suzanne Moore discussing gun violence in the USA (5pm).

Comedian Robin Ince closes the festival with a gig at Stoke Newington Town Hall.

There are kids’ activities throughout the weekend too: Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World at William Patten School on Saturday is led by suffragette descendant Kate Pankhurst with drawing and dressing up (1:30pm).

The school is the place to be on Sunday as well with Michael Rosen’s Jelly Boots and Uncle Gobb, Ben Bailey Smith’s I Am Bear and a celebration of 20 years of Harry Potter magic at Boy. Wizard. Hero. (Adults just as welcome to reenact the sorting ceremony, play quidditch and mix potions.)

Festival founder and director Liz Vater says: “With the world seemingly gone mad, our communities are more important than ever to help us restore a sense of balance and perspective.”

Full programme and tickets at stokenewingtonliteraryfestival.com

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