COUNTY NEWS: President of a Sussex Women’s Institute takes aim at ‘new young hipster’ groups

Women's Institute
Women's Institute

The president of a Sussex Women’s Institute has described the ‘new young hipster cool WI groups that have sprung up around the country’ as women who ‘describe themselves as being different because they are feminist’.

In a blog post, president of the Hastings and Ore WI Stephanie Gaunt, 68, said the Shoreditch Sisters WI – established in October 2007 by founding member and past president Jazz Domino Holly – ‘do not represent the future I’d like to see for the WI’.

She said: “This (the Shoreditch Sisters) 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 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. For example, the Shoreditch Sisters do a hell of a lot of knitting. 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?

“We also heard about their ‘Vulva Quilt’, sewn to raise awareness of FGM (female genital mutilation). These women describe themselves as being different from the rest of us because they are ‘feminist’. Well, we may not all be out with banners on pussy-hat marches but in fact the WI is one of the greatest and most powerful women’s movements ever.

“To me personally, the Shoreditch Sisters and their ilk do not represent the future I’d like to see for the WI.”

Mrs Gaunt made the comments in a post to her blogging website Hastings Battleaxe in which she reported on an East Sussex WI Federation Board of Trustees meeting held on Monday (March 19).

A young speaker from the Shoreditch Sisters appeared to speak at the event.

In a separate blog posted onto the same site on Tuesday (April 3), Mrs Gaunt said she had ‘edited’ her old blog post and that it had disappeared from the unofficial WI Facebook group.

The Observer contacted Mrs Gaunt for a comment but she declined.

A spokesman for the Shoreditch Sisters said: “Shoreditch Sisters is founded on the constitution of the WI, which is focused on being inclusive and welcoming to all women regardless of age and interests.

“We’re proud to take part in a wide range of projects within our local community as well as supporting and running campaigns, for which the WI has historically been known for.

“Group interests and demographics will of course differ across different WI’s, but we have the same values as all WI’s and are passionate about being part of the united growing network.

“We’re sorry to hear of Stephanie’s feelings in her recent blog and would love to welcome her, and any other women, to come along to our meetings and meet us.”