Favourite Feminist: Sian James

Maia Miller-Lewis shares the reasons as to why Sian James from the film Pride is her favourite feminist. 

So, my favourite feminist is Sian James.

Any idea who that is? No? Don’t worry, she’s arguably an obscure choice.

Most people will know of Sian from the 2014 film, Pride. I can hear the cries of horror, ‘Why would you choose a fictional Welsh housewife when there are so many other strong feminists to choose from?!’.

I get the point. But the thing that makes Sian stand out to me as a feminist, is that she just gets on with it. If you have never seen the film, it tells the story of the activist group ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’, LGSM for short. In the 1980s, this group, not without its challenges, formed a close relationship with the small Welsh mining village of Onllwyn. Through organising fundraisers to support the village’s striking miners and their families, LGSM helped the community keep their heads above water when they were brought to the brink of poverty by Thatcher’s offensive.

Sian first appears in the film as a housewife, preparing the fish fingers and packing food parcels. But throughout the film, she finds her power. Becoming a key member of the village council committee, not only does she speak up for the men unlawfully imprisoned for protesting on the picket line, but she plays an active role in supporting LGSM to raise money for the local community.

Sian James by Rivka Cocker

This to me is what really makes her stand out as a feminist. She doesn’t bat an eyelid at the fact that a group of homosexuals want to help her cause. Of course, in the 21st century, I would hope that no committee or community would have a problem accepting the support of groups such as LGSM. But this was Wales in the 1980s – ‘The Valleys’ to coin my Nana’s phrase. The exposure these communities had to anything even close to gay culture was non-existent. Working class to the core, children emulated their mothers and fathers; men to the mines, women to the washing. So, when the group did show up, people were understandably confused, nervous and even a little bit scared. But Sian met this backlash head-on, even challenging her own husband’s apparent prejudice towards gay men.

‘Oh, but she’s only a fictional character’. Haha! I will stop you there. Sian Williams is a real person! Following her experience during the strikes, Sian went onto to get a degree at the University of Swansea in Welsh. Through her own frit and determination, she got involved in national politics, becoming the first ever female MP for Swansea East. And she did it all without shouting, without moaning. In the face of every expectation, every social pressure, she just got on with it.

If this doesn’t make her a standout feminist, then we need to seriously re-think our understanding of what a feminist is, and what they should be.

Illustration by Rivka Cocker. 

 

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