An experience of Oxford Women Speak Out

Emily Beswick discusses using her time, and body, for activism

I’ve always found the thought of political activism slightly intimidating, even if the issues themselves personally interest me. What drew me to Oxford Women Speak Out was the simplicity of it all—it was a one-off moment to communicate a personal message. For a few moments, you express yourself with words written on your skin, before they are wiped off and you can return to a normal day.

It was easier than I thought to think of a message: sometimes the simplest selection of words can be the most powerful. I chose a quote from the author C. JoyBell C. It reads: “I am an entirety, I am not a lack of anything; rather I am a whole of many things.”

For me, her words counter the pressure on mixed race people to identify with one race or another, whilst also applying to any context where society forces people into fixed boxes.

The experience was empowering on an individual level because at every point you were given freedom of choice: the words themselves, the body part, the pose, even the camera angle. So often the female body is objectified, infringed upon and taken from women, so it was liberating to reclaim it and use it as a symbol of female strength. Everyone who took part was doing so on their own terms and with a self-confidence that was beautiful to see.

The best part about the campaign is that each individual photo forms an inspiring, collective portrait of Oxford’s women. There is a real sense of solidarity and support as everyone helps each other with writing messages and arranging the photoshoot. There is also the opportunity just to have a relaxed chat.

Viewing the whole group of images afterwards on social media was uplifting, with each college being a small but integral part of a more powerful, university-wide female community.

All in all, the campaign is a great, informal way to make your voice heard in a supportive environment, and this is something which is, in the current climate, seemingly increasingly important. In the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day—“Be Bold For Change”.