As Alice walked up from Pond Street bus station towards Paternoster Row, she was in a strange state. She was certainly nervous, but there was also something else she hadn’t felt in as long as she could remember: she was excited. Since learning of the group, she had read as much as she could about feminism, and had been intoxicated: she had the sense that she was on the verge of entering a world she had always thought of as being for others, but one to which, against all expectation, she might even belong.
On reaching The Workstation, Alice saw that one of the large double doors to the building was flung open; light and voices were spilling out. Entering, she found herself in a large room with a number of couches strewn about, and with a desk towards the rear on the right. Various doors, passages and a staircase led off from the room. Most of the noise was coming through another pair of double doors on the left, outside which a number of young women were standing and chatting. This was easier than Alice had expected; that must be it.
While she was looking, one of the women standing outside the room looked around and, on seeing Alice, broke off from her conversation and came towards her.
‘Hi! Are you here for the meeting?’
‘The Sheffield Young Feminists over eighteens?’
‘Yes, that’s us! I don’t think I’ve seen you here before?’
‘No, this is my first time.’
Poppy grinned and extended her hand.
‘Great! It’s lovely to meet someone new. I’m Poppy, by the way.’
Alice took it.
‘Would you like to come in? I’ll show you where everything is.”
Alice followed Poppy through the door. It was a large, high-ceilinged room; in the centre of it were two concentric semi-circles of chairs, facing a lectern in front of a large projector screen. Various women, most looking to be of student age, were stood chatting in groups. Poppy led Alice, threading their way through the groups, to a table on the right-hand side of the room, where there were trays of biscuits, sachets of herbal tea and a couple of water boilers.
‘Here’s the tea and biscuits; all organic. Have whatever you’d like.’
She looked at her phone.
‘We’re starting soon, so I’ll have to go and do my bit. Once you’ve got your tea, just find a seat. If you need anything, just ask whoever’s near you. Everyone’s really friendly!’
As Poppy went, Alice looked around the room. As she had thought before she came, most of the women there looked like they were students. Poppy had been friendly though, so perhaps they wouldn’t be as intimidating as she had feared. She was here, and she was going to do her best to stay; perhaps one day she could be as confident, as at home as they all seemed.
A couple of minutes later, Alice saw some of the women starting to sit down, so she did the same, sitting right at the end of the rearmost semi-circular row. It wasn’t long before Poppy stepped up to the lectern and tapped the microphone.
‘Is this on? It is! Hi everyone. It’s amazing to see you all, and to see some new faces. Welcome! I’m Poppy, and I’m here to get us started. We’ve got a really great speaker today, but before that, some housekeeping.’
While Poppy talked about fire exits and room hire fees, Alice was puzzled: she had realised that, since she had been here, she had an unfamiliar feeling, one that she couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t bad – the opposite, in fact – it was just that she didn’t know what it was. Odd.
She realised that Poppy was coming to a close.
‘…anyway, I’m sure you’ve had enough of me!’
There were a few shouts of ‘no!’
‘Oh, you’re too nice, but it’s time for tonight’s speaker, you all know her, she’s doing her thesis on intersectionality through the lens of West-African feminism, our sister Osai, with her talk “Each Woman’s Voice: You are Unique.”’
There was warm applause as the speaker rose from her seat and came to the lectern. Alice joined in enthusiastically, and during the next half an hour was entranced. Even better was when, after the speaker had finished, they broke apart into small groups for a discussion. She said nothing, and was content to simply sit and listen. It was fascinating: the women she was sat with were able to have an intense, passionate discussion without a single hint of aggression or vindictiveness, and, further, the parts of what they were saying that she could understand made sense to her. As she looked up, she saw the same thing all around the room.
It was then, as she took in all that was happening, took in all of these vibrant young women, talking and hugging and laughing, that she realised what it was that she had felt earlier, that she had felt ever since she had come here tonight: she felt safe. Here, completely free from the men that had so scarred her life, she felt safe. She did her best to hide the tears that came to her eyes.