On the 25th April as part of #inisdeoutsideayrshire we held a reading night. A new idea and not something we had tried before but we wanted another way for people to link with the realities of what the women’s lives were like.
A group of women took the stories from Inside Outside and read them, not an easy task and not something to necessarily do in one sitting. They were asked to select a woman’s story that they felt connected to and narrow that down to one section that they felt really spoke to them.
The “readers” came from all walks of life – carers, managers, mothers, support workers, business women …. the list goes on. We met and talked over the night, the plans and most importantly how they felt about the stories, what it meant to them to read them and how they felt about sharing them with others.
It was an incredible night at a beautiful venue. A group of women all gathered together to hear the stories. There was abut 45 of us in that space and words cannot capture the energies, the emotions and the power in that room. I dont think I have ever been to something quite like it and I doubt it could be fully replicated again.
One of the readers wrote this blog immediately after the night to capture what it meant for her to be part of it. Thank you L for sharing this with us.
“Last night was a game changer. The point where something theoretical became something really fucking real. Submerged in a room full of strong, powerful women brought together to share the lives of women who had been involved in prostitution. The stories in the skewed and biased media suddenly became stories from the primary source, the undeniable gruesome, heart breaking reality…to say there was an emotional charge running through the room would be an understatement.
I started my experience during the day at the exhibition in Ayr – in the court room – where I had the eye opener of reading the “Memoirs” Books with some ‘reviews’….of women…..yup, punternet – a tripadvisor style review forum for men to share their thoughts on the women’s performance. Can you imagine? That was the first time I cried, a couple of pages in to the first book. The comments were unbearable, I imagined how I would feel if these words were written about me….or worse, my own daughter. How could they? How could they objectify other human beings in such a disgusting and degrading way? My tears of sadness grew to those of complete rage.
Descending in to the cells under the court where the remainder of the exhibition was set up wasn’t easy. Part of me wanted to run, the other knew that later on, I would be the voice of Wendy who was a main contributor and I owed it to her to get as full a picture of her life as possible. Each room held another sledge hammer blow to my preconceived ideas of the sex industry. Cassie’s spoken stories of pimps, saunas and life in that world brought home just how dangerous it can be. The follow up videos from another 3 women proved to be my next cryfest, Joanne, who took so much from a few words of kindness demonstrated the important of help without judgement, of empowerment without laying down the law, quite literally and of how little it can take to give hope of a way out.
As I navigated my way through the cells, the organiser Linda regularly checking in that I was ok, there was nothing comfortable about it. It was intense, confronting and the muscles in my stomach ached from beginning to end. But I’m glad I went. I’m glad I brought my friend to share the experience and I think it’s something everyone needs to see.
The evening, held in the stunning setting of Unity Grill (an amazing social enterprise addressing food poverty in Ayrshire, please check it out) was relaxed at first but as the stories were aired, the mood changed and the intensity was palpable. I was one of the volunteer readers….in the privileged position to tell a section of Wendy’s story….of a life started in difficult circumstances, of a beautiful young girl bullied, raped, isolated and broken who could have been me, could have been you, your sister, your daughter or any one of the other women in the room. As woman after woman stood up, from all walks of life, you could hear a pin drop. Whilst gut wrenching, we wanted to listen, we wanted to give these words the attention they deserve. There could have been 5, 50 or 500 people in the room, all that mattered was the stories.
We all know these things happen, we know women are driven to desperation for a plethora of reasons, we know that it’s no-ones first choice. Now admittedly, there are other stories to be told, those who apparently “choose” the life – the Belle De Jours of the world – but after visiting the Inside Outside exhibition and reading all of these stories word for word, I can’t help but think we’ve chosen to commit that picture to mind and ignore the horror that becomes the reality for the majority of these women. It’s simply easier to process if we maintain the glamourised perception we’ve been fed for so long. The facts are it’s violence, it’s rape and sexual abuse, it’s unacceptable and we are failing these women. They need our help. Belle and her peers may be one thing, this is quite another.
As we came to a close, we were honoured to hear a poem from Wendy’s mother, words of fury, strength but absolute pride for her daughter, the survivor. It was one of the most powerful, impactful collection of words I’ve ever heard…..Then mere moments later, we heard from Wendy. The Actual Wendy. To be in the same room as someone not only brave enough to take part in the project to begin with but to stand up in this crowd of strangers and profess who she was, well, I’m crying now just thinking about it.
Towards the end of Wendy’s story she ponders how to explain to her four year old what a junkie prostitute is…..to Wendy I would say this…..” you’re a survivor, you are strong, brave, can be anything and quite enough just as you are…I’m pretty sure that’s all your boy needs to know”
I wanted to take part in this project because it was my small way of showing support and solidarity to women who are often held on the fringes of society or overlooked altogether. This night mattered and I was honoured to be a part of it.
For me personally, I picked Wendy because I got her, I related to what happened in her childhood and what led her down that path. She is articulate, she’s witty and has strength in abundance. What matters to her is her child, her dog and a house of her own….so really she’s not too different to me.
As a stay at home mum, I often think about what I’ll do when I return to work. Having the opportunity to see how this project has positively impacted not only the women themselves but everyone who is in any way connected to it, it makes me determined that my time will be spent supporting other people in whatever capacity I can.”