International Women’s Day – Feminist Reflections

I started my day on a train into the city, heading in to see a number of fantastic, intelligent, and inspiring women speak at a Women’s Day event. Naturally, I selected an appropriate book to read on the journey: Emma L. Rees’s AMAZING The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History. I would review it for you here, but alas I am still only a few chapters into it, so will have to crap on about it gleefully to a greater extent at a later date. What I can say from the few chapters that I have read so far, though, is that it is a completely amazing book, I love reading it, it’s informative, fascinating, and funny. The chapter I indulged in this morning, as an example, was concerned with the etymology of the word cunt – see? Fascinating. Informative as hell. I laughed out loud in the train carriage more than once. It’s a fabulous feminist read. As is my habit, I have digressed… moving on.

Okay. So, going into Sydney to listen to super women discuss feminism, and all of the obstacles, issues, and also blessings that come with the being and doing of ‘femaleness’ in our society. First up was a panel featuring Tara Moss, Germaine Greer, Clementine Ford, Celeste Liddle, Roxane Gay, and Anita Sarkeesian. The topic of this panel was ‘How To Be A Feminist’, and needless to say with these women on the panel it was FUCKING INCREDIBLE. Going in, I was most excited to see Tara Moss and Germaine Greer (I may have squealed when they appeared on stage, and whispered to my friend “She’s real!!” when I saw Tara…), but by the end I was hardcore fangirling over all of the women on the panel. Is there one way to BE feminist, or not? Are there any criteria which automatically include or disqualify you from ‘the cause’? By the end of the panel we still didn’t have any clear answers to those questions (not that I was expecting to get one, it was only 75 minutes and we’ve been debating these issues for how long now?). What we DID have by the end was plenty more ideas and perspectives to take away and think about, which is never a bad thing. The other two panels were where I REALLY got inspired..

Roxane Gay’s presentation, topic Bad Feminist (just like her book which I now cannot wait to sink my eyeballs into … bit too gross? Little too far, girl. Moving on.) What was I saying? Roxane Gay’s presentation on being a ‘bad feminist’ was simply great. Dr Gay was honest, easy to understand, laugh-out-loud funny, witty, and refreshingly real about all of the topics she discussed. As a feminist, for example, should she enjoy listening to rap music with unbelievably misogynistic lyrics? Probs not. But she does it anyway, because it’s “daammnn gooood” *dances in her chair on stage*. Another highlight of this talk was her discussion of the 50 Shades of Grey books and film. As Dr Gay is an English professor, and given the warring views around these texts in feminist circles at the moment, I was particularly interested to hear her views. For once, the explanation of why someone enjoyed the books made sense to me, perhaps because while defending those aspects of them Gay also condemned the more … unhealthy… aspects of the characters’ relationship. Also, her answer to the question of why these books have taken off the way that they have, despite there being other women-centred erotica in existence that is written at a far higher quality, was hilarious and frank: “clearly, a lot of women are under-fucked”.

For me, the third panel of the day was the most poignant. The incomparable Rosie Batty was joined by Tara Moss to discuss the rate of domestic violence in Australian society and the lack of social, media, and political response to it. Why is it the case that when two people are killed after being ‘king hit’ on nights out, this kind of violence gets a new name (the coward’s punch), the stories are all over every major news outlet in the country, and new laws are enacted to ensure harsher punishments for the perpetrators of such actions, but when women (because we’re people too, remember) are being killed in instances of domestic or intimate partner violence at a rate of more than two per week nothing is being done? Where is the outrage? Surely I can’t be the only one who is desperate to see this situation change? Being in that room full of people today was a great step in reassuring me that, no, I’m not alone in my frustration. The contributions from men in the room were particularly refreshing and gave me hope. What I especially got out of this panel is that the cultural narrative around abuse REALLY needs to change, not just so that the endemic victim blaming culture can be eradicated, but so that people – especially women – can actually have the knowledge and ability to recognise when they are themselves being abused. I was assaulted in a relationship three years ago, but I did not realise that this was what had happened to me until last year when I discussed the incident with a friend. I said “no, that can’t have happened to me. It doesn’t happen to people like me.” The inherently false cultural narrative had taught me that sexual assault is something that happens to other people. Never to ourselves. I asked him to stop, he ignored me, and I was terrified. And yet, somehow, I had to have it pointed out to me that this was an act of abuse. And we still have people saying that many of the mixed up messages out there about what constitutes a healthy relationship, about what consent is, don’t matter because “it’s just fiction” … *insert angry and dismissive eye-roll here*

All in all, today was bloody brilliant. Women are bloody brilliant, and we deserve to have our voices heard more often as they were today. The word would be a better place for it.

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