Tori Attwood talks selfie exhibitions and speed-mating with Girl Gang's creative director
Like many great things, Girl Gang was founded by accident. The female-focused events and entertainment group was formed by friends Ellie Ragdale and Vanhessa Longley over coffee after they realised that there was little community support for young women running creative businesses. Putting female friendship and celebration at the forefront of their activities, the group quickly adopted an empowering motto 'to put on events to help and support women to achieve in life, work and society'.
After the success of several events in Sheffield, including an immersive screening of Mean Girls, Creative Director Megan Marie Griffith realised that a similar community group could thrive in Manchester.
“So many artists live in Manchester and the city has a real sense of if you want something to happen, you can find a way to make it happen in Manchester,” says Griffith.
Founded just over a year ago, Girl Gang Manchester’s core team of five have already organised a portfolio of events ranging from immersive screenings to discussions on Brexit.
The group is unfunded and the staff are unpaid, but that doesn’t stop the collective group pulling off jaw-droppingly impressive events. Take the immersive screening of Bridesmaids for example, where themes of body positivity and female friendship were set against the theatrical backdrop of handcrafted flower garlands, a hand-sculpted miniature Eiffel Tower and extravagant wedding decorations.
You can be a massive fan of Katy Perry and still be a serious feminist.
Though elaborate and undeniably girly, the events are far more than just florals and fun. “Our events try to open feminism up to the next generation of feminists and women who wouldn’t necessarily see a feminist event on Facebook and click attending,” explains Griffith.
“What we try to do is use popular culture and things that are more accessible and relevant to everyday life and then discuss them in a fun and interactive way that also highlights social issues.
“We’re definitely a feminist group, but that doesn’t mean that we’re only for women. Everyone is welcome. We’re just foregrounding the accomplishments of women and putting them centre stage," she adds.
“What we’re saying is that there are loads of different ways to be a woman and loads of different ways to be a feminist. We just ask people to be conscious in the decisions they make. You can be a massive fan of Katy Perry and still be a serious feminist.”
I think that something that is a really weird about feminism is that we spend a lot of time debating who is and who isn’t a role model
When it comes to celebrating the achievements of women in society, there are plenty of role models to consider:
“Beyoncé is queen, we all know that. But also, people like Angela Davis – she's an amazing activist. Michelle Obama – she’s so genuine and intelligent but gracious with it. It never feels like she’s playing a part, that’s just genuinely her. I respect anybody that is authentically themselves.”
“I think that something that is a really weird about feminism is that we spend a lot of time debating who is and who isn’t a role model. I feel like when somebody is upheld on a platform as a role model society makes it their mission to take them down. It would be better if we spent more time deciding what we personally believe rather than debating whether a person is perfect. Then feminism would be in a better place.
I think people universally concluded that the way we self-moderate and self-police our images is negative
Girl Gang's most recent event was the free #SeeMySelfie exhibition, a social experiment that explores the use of selfies in modern society (The Wonder Inn, 16-30 May).
After realising that she was taking pictures of herself less, Megan wanted to explore the debate on 'whether selfies are a tool of empowerment enabling women to reclaim their own image and are an expression of self-love and confidence. Or, whether it’s people seeking approval from the outside world and emphasising the notion that, for women, it’s what you look like that matters and not what you think.'
The project was started just over a year ago, with a mailing list of over 200 volunteers. Each day, Girl Gang HQ would send out a different provocation to encourage people to take different photos, such as taking a selfie from your worst angle and capturing your resting bitch face. Both social media addicts and amateurs participated in the project, offering a diverse set of results.
“So many interesting and unexpected things came out of [the project]; mental health, body positivity, body relevance, motherhood, diversity and authenticating your identity," explains Griffith. "It became an incredible community of people sharing photos with a hashtag and supporting one another. Even though it was a photography project that had a visual format, it became much more about the discussions that took place.”
Participants were asked how they felt about the photo that they had taken, as well as the act of taking the photo itself:
“It was essentially asking people to question why they feel a certain way about photos and to get people to call out their own internal bullshit and the horrible things they say about themselves without even thinking about it. But also, to be more aware of societal pressures and expectations, because once you’re more aware of it you can disregard it.”
Griffith revealed that although there wasn’t an overall love or hate consensus on selfie-taking, participants did come to similar conclusions about social media.
“I think people universally concluded that the way we self-moderate and self-police our images is negative, because we’re only showing a certain side of ourselves,” she explains.
“People who participated in the project had gone on this journey and become a lot more aware of how they use social media.”
Self-development and support are often at the heart of Girl Gang Manchester’s activities. Now anticipating its fourth event, the group runs the popular speed-mating series – a dating-inspired event that encourages friendship instead of romance. The idea behind the event came to Megan after spotting requests for a ‘Tinder for friends’ on Twitter.
“People are so used to having those frameworks of university or work to form friendships, so when you switch cities it can be difficult to meet new people.”
The series has already proved to be a huge success, with 90% of attendees coming to the event on their own and eager to meet new people. Though the events vary from exhibitions to group activities, one element ties them all together.
“I’m really proud of the atmosphere [at the events]. There’s a real welcoming, accessible atmosphere and it feels as though there is a safe, nurturing environment for people to nurture one another and push themselves beyond their usual boundaries, whether that be to talk to someone new or trying something new. They’re definitely a place where friendship is actively fostered.”
“I want people to come [to our events] and feel totally relaxed, and that they can be authentically themselves and that that will be allowed and appreciated. In life, you really do have to allocate time for self-care and to reset. That’s so valuable because it will then give you the strength to carry on giving the good fight, whether it’s a mental health issue or a problem at work or activism, you can carry on going.”
For more information about Girl Gang Manchester and their next speed mating event, visit the Facebook page .