Girl Gang Leeds: A Year of Smashing the Patriarchy
How did like-minded women of the north get together before the birth of Girl Gang? I couldn’t tell you... but now the gang is here there’s no need to look elsewhere. I first came across this wonderful bunch of women through their ‘Spooky Bingo’ event around Halloween-time in 2017. Since then, their creative events and casual meet-ups have been all over my news feeds.
As Girl Gang Leeds approach their 1st Birthday, it seemed about time that Harpy got to know the story behind this quirky collective. I met with Emily and Kaz and asked them to tell me all about their agenda. Girl Gang, they explain, is a creative community for women and non-binary people. It began in Sheffield, when Vanhessa, a small business-owner with a Mean Girls inspired clothing range, decided to collaborate with Ellie, who ran an immersive theatre company for kids. Between them they hosted a screening of the Lindsey Lohan cult classic, but they knew that was only the beginning.
“They wanted to talk about female friendships,” Kaz explains. “It kind of established then that they wanted to build a community.”
Kaz became part of the team after stumbling across their manifesto online, and decided to bring Girl Gang with her when she later moved to Leeds. They now exist in Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh. I wondered what Kaz thought when she first saw that manifesto.
“I want that, I want all of that!” she says, laughing. “It was a personal need for friendship and community.”
Now, a year since Girl Gang Leeds sprung into existence, they are still committed to exhibiting local artists and musicians, as well as simply bringing women together. Their focus is on platforming women, non-binary people and the LGBT+ community, recognising the importance of finding spaces of acceptance in an exclusionary world.
“I feel like just by being a woman you are other,” Kaz says. “Even just being a girl - and quite a privileged white girl, at that - I feel othered all the time. If I feel like that, then there must be millions of people who feel like that, particularly when race comes into it; when class comes into it; when gender comes into it. All of those people who might feel excluded or othered; we’re just trying to flip that a little bit and create spaces where those people can feel involved and feel like they’re supposed to be there.”
Between monthly ‘Girl Talk’ meet-ups designed to bring like-minded people together, Girl Gang Leeds have a pretty impressive portfolio of events. In November they put on ‘Reclaiming Pink’ at Wharf Chambers, an all-pink art exhibition “celebrating and challenging ideas of femininity”. July saw them host the ‘Best Pals Prom’ at Sela Bar, where guests were encouraged to dress to impress and bring their best mate as their date. On Saturday they’ll be celebrating their 1st Birthday Party at CHUNK, which looks set to be an afternoon of great bands. On the 8th of March you can expect an incredible line-up of speakers to celebrate International Women’s Day, and on the 19th of March they'll host the very first Leeds 'Speed Mate-ing' event at Headrow House.
As we get chatting, I want to know a little more about the ethos behind Girl Gang. While we at Harpy are quite outspoken about our feminism, we recognise that ‘feminist’ can be a contentious word. When I ask if they call themselves feminists, Kaz has a pretty interesting take.
“We probably do in a personal capacity, but we don’t identify that way as a group necessarily… Girl Gang isn’t intended to be a political group [but] it’s quite clear that feminist values are part of everything that we do. We’re not activists as such but it’s more about trying to do things that are really positive. We want it to be really inclusive of everyone, and not everyone feels included by the term ‘feminism’.”
In the short time that I’ve known Emily and Kaz, it’s clear to me that inclusion is very important to them, and to the whole identity of Girl Gang Leeds. While they talk a lot about creating spaces for women and platforming female artists, they make it clear to me that they include trans women (and all people from the LGBT+ community) in that, and make a conscious effort to avoid language that might exclude them. When I ask if any men go to their events, both answer “yes!” quite emphatically. After a short pause Kaz adds with a wry smile, “... and they seem to be alright”.
I can’t help but find their excitement infectious. Emily and Kaz long for the days when this could be a full-time job. “I spend all my time gushing about Girl Gang” says Emily, and jokes that being part of it feels like the early days of a great relationship. When I ask her to sum the gang up in three words, she says “community, creativity, positivity”. Kaz chooses “friendly, inclusive, and fun!”
If the brilliant events alone weren’t enough to pique your interest in Girl Gang Leeds, I can vouch for the sincere attitude of celebration and inclusion that these women have. It’s a pleasure to share their optimism for a future where positive spaces for women and members of the LGBT+ community are the norm.
So if you’re looking for your own personal girl gang, I cannot recommend this one enough. Check out their Facebook page to keep up with all their events, and follow them on Twitter (@GIRLGANGLEEDS) and Instagram (@girlgangleeds). Make sure you head over to CHUNK on the 17th February for their 1st Birthday Party! Get tickets here, or on the door.
Images sourced via Girl Gang Leeds