Interview: Fife’s Fashionable Fisherwomen

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While speaking to the women featured in my documentary, The Herring Quines, I was struck by the sense of history, legacy, and tradition they conveyed. In fact, these themes seemed to emerge in every discussion I had, both on and off-camera. They emerge again in this chat with my wonderful friend Lucy about how these women made ends meet, the role of mental health, and the wonderful world of fisher fashion.

Labelled Magazine: Fife’s Fashionable Fisherwomen

Labelled is a fashion magazine representing demographics that are often ignored. For more content like this, follow Labelled on Facebook and Twitter.

17 Must-Read Commencement Speech Quotes

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Read the whole thing on Bustle.

It’s spring, and graduation looms for many – myself included. To celebrate this/ help process this reality, I gathered wisdom from 17 writers’ commencement speeches to see what they had to say about life after university. Of everything I read, this from Toni Morrison resonated most:

“I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, target of your labors here, your choices of companions, of the profession that you will enter. You deserve it and I want you to gain it, everybody should. But if that’s all you have on your mind, then you do have my sympathy, and if these are indeed the best years of your life, you do have my condolences because there is nothing, believe me, more satisfying, more gratifying than true adulthood. The adulthood that is the span of life before you. The process of becoming one is not inevitable. Its achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of.”

Despite all the changes on the horizon, it’s a process I look forward to.

Photo: Lincoln Memorial University

Sex & Love: Sex Ed and The Screen

My latest episode of Spectrum, part of our series on Sex and Love:

Spectrum Podcast

Take a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlaCOdLD2Q

‘Sex Ed and The Screen’ – partly a generous pun on ‘Sex and the City’ (which is mentioned here), but mostly, these are the two things I had in mind when thinking about this episode.

That’s because I think these are the two things that – for better or worse – have a profound influence on how we come to learn about love, sex, and relationships. With that in mind, this episode is split into two parts:

1. ‘We were explicitly told that we were not allowed to touch the condoms.’

The National Union of Students recently found that just 32% of young people rated the sex education they received in school as ‘good’. I asked a group of fellow students about their experiences and what they thought could be done differently.

2. ‘There was nothing macho about him…’

How have the representations of…

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11 Books on Inspiring Women To Motivate You

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I don’t know about you, but January’s a slow month for me. The weather here gets so cold that it feels like an effort to do anything that requires going outdoors. To tackle my winter blues, I got to reading, mostly because it’s a cosy indoor activity, and came up with this list to pull me out of my midwinter fuzz:

11 Books on Inspiring Women To Motivate You

The women on this list have done some pretty cool things, and you might well recognize some of them. I need all the energy I can muster to push through my last semester of university, so I’m taking a few leaves from these books to get me mentally prepared. If you’re feeling the same way right now, I hope one of these titles appeals to you, too!

Photo: Ian Aberle/Flickr

On (a) Spectrum

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In March this year, I joined Spectrum, a podcast that looks at the various surrounding gender equality.

I came on board just in time to join their episode on intersectionality, and looked at class. It impacts so much that Jo (who worked on the segment with me) and I found plenty to talk about. To me, St Andrews feels very different to other universities across the UK, but we’re not immune to ‘lad culture’. I wanted to find out just what that is, and what it means to St Andrews students – what do they think it means? Have they experienced it?

Being a history student, I was also curious about how class and gender feed into historical representation – or lack thereof. While historians themselves have worked hard to pick apart the complexities of the past, there’s still very much a stereotype of ‘the Victorian woman’, a domesticated ideal. Scottish history and its diversity is also skimmed over in a wider British narrative. I spoke to my great aunt, whose mother’s experiences as a herring gutter challenge both of these narratives.

Fast forward to October, and our team has grown! We lost two of our members who were studying abroad here, so recruited some newbies to put together our episode on Birth. Kara and I were interested in how birth and motherhood has been represented throughout history. We spoke to art historians, a film scholar and the producer of Downton Abbey to trace how people have tackled anxieties surrounding childbirth and parenting.

You can listen to all of Spectrum’s episodes on our Spreaker page.

And if you’re interested, like our Facebook page to stay posted on the next episode – Love & Sex.

Journey to… St Monans Sea Queen Day

A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip around the East Neuk to St Monans to watch the annual crowning of the Sea Queen. It’s a tradition I first came across in Mike Hildrey’s documentary, Sunrise to Sunset: East Neuk Fishing, and a prime example of the role of women in a fishing community. Since this is exactly the topic I’m examining in my own documentary, I seized the chance to see the ceremony first hand.

 

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Once a place where the fishing industry thrived, St Monans Harbour still berths a smattering of boats, though nowadays these are mostly for leisure instead of work. It’s this historic connection to the sea that gave rise to the practice of selecting a Sea Queen. Every year for over half a century, a St Monans girl has been selected to assist with the organisation and smooth running of community events. She is chosen by her peers on the merit of her existing dedication to the community. This year it is Caitlan Duncan’s turn, the latest in a long line of Sea Queens to serve her community, and there is an entire day built around honouring the new ‘monarch’.
 
Brightly striped stalls lined the harbour front, offering refreshments, raffles – typical gala fare. Over the course of the afternoon, locals performed music on the stage, and of course ran the aforementioned stalls. The seafront remained busy the entire afternoon, so the appeal clearly reaches more than just a keen handful of organisers. The fact that the practice of crowning a Sea Queen has remained while fishing’s presence has fizzled is testament to the locals’ respect for and pride in the heritage of their village. I was struck by a strong sense of community, something that obviously hasn’t been lost with time.
 
In keeping with the historical precedent of the day itself, the ceremony was steeped in tradition. Caitlan and her party sailed from Anstruther on board the Reaper, a Fifie lovingly restored with support from the Scottish Fisheries Museum and crewed by experienced volunteers. They paraded to the stage, led by a piper, and the party were introduced one by one: a fisher lass, page boy, two attendants, then, of course, Sea Queen Caitlan herself. She and her attendants wore ceremonial cloaks, handmade in the 1980s by Maureen Lishman. A slightly newer tradition, then, but the design seemed informed by how previous cloaks might have looked. The fisher lass wore a traditional striped dress and carried a basket, a more contemporary nod to fisher fashion.
 
Once on stage, the party seated themselves on antique chairs reserved especially for the occasion. Caitlan traded her short cloak for a full length one, and was crowned by her predecessor. The use of a crown in the ceremony, made by local Yvonne Sutherland, is a new tradition going forward.
 
I will need to do some more research, but among the roles available to women in fishing communities, this is one of the more unique ones I’ve come across. Admittedly, though, when I first saw the ceremony and heard of its history, I couldn’t help but compare it to the very similar contest held at home in Peterhead. Each summer, during the annual Scottish Week, we crown a Buchan Queen and two Princesses. While the principle is generally the same, and the practices arose at roughly the same time, the Buchan Queen is more of a gala queen, where the Sea Queen is more specifically tied to the traditions – and perhaps superstitions – of fisher people.
 
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As well as taking in the festivities, I took the opportunity to wander along the coastal path to the 18th century windmill that sits atop a hill overlooking St Monans. It’s been restored and turned into a viewing platform, offering panoramic views that take in Pittenweem, the Firth of Forth and the Fife countryside.
 
Why a windmill in a village known for fishing? It’s thought that it was used to draw up water to be used in salt processing. St Monans was just one of many places salt processing was conducted along the Forth estuary. Only after I found the door firmly bolted and padlocked and returned to the harbour did I discover that the key can be borrowed from the local Spar (in exchange for a small deposit, of course). All that means, though, is that it’s definitely something to revisit in future.
 
And as for the Sea Queen, I’ve seen what the tradition is today, but its origins remain as mystical as the fantastical connotations of the title itself. More digging will need to be done…