Womens Institute at war as branch president takes aim at hipster young

first_imgIn recent years the reinvention of the Women’s Institute as a trendy venue for women to practise activism and learn traditional skills has widened its appeal from jam and Jerusalem. But a leading member of the WI has launched an attack on younger “hipster” groups who she says see their older peers as “old bats” and “battleaxes”. Stephanie Gaunt said the “radical energy” of younger WI groups like the trendy Shoreditch Sisters “do not represent the future I’d like to see for the WI”.Ms Gaunt, the president of Hastings & Ore WI and an East Sussex trustee, criticised the London group in a now-edited blog post after a member, Charlotte Gough, came to speak at a Royal Albert Hall event to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage on March 24. In 2011, the Shoreditch Sisters, who were founded in 2007 by the daughter of rock frontman Joe Strummer, knitted a vulva blanket as part of a campaign to raise awareness of female genital mutilation.The post said: “Modern, cool, hipster knitting seems to be about knitting for protest.”They are proud of knitting a ‘Solidarity Blanket’ for the women in Yarls Wood Detention Centre.”Is this any more commendable or interesting than the thousands upon thousands of WI women who quietly get on with knitting clothes for premature babies, twiddle muffs for dementia patients, daffodils for Marie Curie Cancer Care, toys to sell to benefit their chosen local charities and so on ad infinitum? “Thinking about it, what would us lot in Hastings knit for those unfortunate women in Yarls Wood? Practical things – hats, scarves and mittens maybe.”On her blog, Hastings Battleaxe, Ms Gaunt also said of the Shoreditch Sisters: “This is one of the new young hipster cool WI groups that have sprung up around the country, all bright-eyed youth and ‘radical’ energy.”They are held up to the rest of us presumably uncool un-regenerated ‘unwoke’ old bats [and] battleaxes as the role-model future of the movement. Shoreditch Sisters Wi at a march Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. “I put ‘radical’ in inverted commas, because if you actually look at what they do, it is no different from the activities of any other WI group.”They present it as ground-breaking – and it feels like they are presenting it as better than the boring nonsense the rest of us frightful old dinosaurs fiddle about with.”They are held up to the rest of us as the role-model future of the movement. If you actually look at what they do, it is no different from the activities of any other WI group.”The post has since been modified to remove references to “unwoke”, “old bats”, “battleaxes” and “dinosaurs”.In a later post, published on Tuesday, she added that the edits had been made and the post deleted from an unofficial facebook page because “the group is apparently ‘leaky’ and the WI is still smarting from a little flurry of publicity in the Daily Mail about subscriptions”. center_img “As we don’t ask members their ages there is a real sense of age being left at the door, along with any other factors that might define them in their everyday life – such as background, religion, political views, or even work or marital status. All women, and anyone living their life as a woman, are not only accepted into the WI, but welcomed and celebrated.” Earlier this year the Daily Telegraph reported that some groups had criticised the central WI for increasing annual charges for members. She said the Facebook comments “got increasingly angry. One woman kept on and on commenting and responding with escalating hostility”. Ms Gaunt’s post also talks about an earlier event, the annual meeting for the east Sussex group, which had talks from Sam Taylor, Editor of the ‘Lady’ magazine and celebrity gardner Tom Hart-Dyke. The Shoreditch Sisters declined to comment. Lynne Stubbings, Chair of the NFWI, said: “All WIs are different and we are incredibly proud of the diversity within the WI. One of our key messages is ‘The WI is what you want it to be’, and we encourage individual WIs to make their WIs a reflection of their members.”The WI gives women a space where they can be themselves, and do what they want to do, surrounded by other supportive women. One of the aspects that members, young and old, cherish is the opportunity to meet people of different ages, as well as cultures and backgrounds.”Many members actually say it’s the only opportunity they have to speak with women of different generations, and these cross-generational friendships make the WI unique. Shoreditch Sisters Wi at a march last_img

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