In its sixth year, All About Women celebrates International Women’s Day (March 8) with a line-up of inspiring and empowering discussions around the universal struggle for equality in a world still dominated by the white, privileged patriarchy.
While I could have easily gone to every talk on offer, it wold have been physically impossible given I don’t yet know how to be in two places at once, so I went along to two: Suffragettes to social media and Smashing the patriarchy.
I will premise this by saying that I am a proud and fairly vocal feminist, so you may view this as a ‘preaching to the converted’ situation. However, I did invite along a good friend of mine who does not consider herself a feminist, so for her, this was slightly out of her comfort zone.
Suffragettes to social media
Suffragettes to social media examined the different waves of feminism – from the first wave with the Suffragettes to the ‘me too’ movement which could arguably be seen as the beginning of the fourth wave of feminism. Chaired by Edwina Throsby, each member of the panel spoke to a specific wave, and in some cases their first hand experiences with it. Barbara Caine spoke on the Suffragettes and the beginning of women’s liberation which extended from 1790 until the advent of the First World War in 1914. Given their significant impact, it was interesting to learn that the Suffragettes were quite a small group and operated not unlike an army – if you disagreed with any of their ideas then you were kicked out. While they did successfully achieve the vote for women, it was a very exclusive movement, involving predominantly well-bred white women with property. The next challenge for women was how to make the movement inclusive.
Anne Summers spoke about the second wave – which is potentially the most well-known – occurring during the 1960s and 70s. Much of this second iteration was made up of students and anti – Vietnam War protesters and in Australia it wasn’t referred to as feminism, it was Women’s Liberation. 1969 marked the first Women’s Liberation meeting in Australia, at a time when it was legal to pay women 25% less than men. According to Summers, “We didn’t know who we were or who we could become – we were the ‘other’”. This was the feminism of my Mother’s generation and I suddenly saw her life from a very different perspective. When she was my age women weren’t allowed in pubs, you had to get your husbands permission to get a passport, and there was still the expectation that a woman would give up her career when she married – ideas that today, seem absurd.
The 1990s heralded the third wave of feminism and, as Rebecca Walker explained, by this stage women felt disconnected from the movement. Women’s Liberation was getting a lot of bad press and this notion that feminists are all man – hating, hairy lesbians (no disrespect to lesbians, or body hair) was created – by men. This generation of young women realised that in order to stay relevant, feminism had to go beyond gender equality to encompass all human rights. The label wasn’t as important as demonstrating affirmative action. Women had a voice and they were becoming less and less afraid to use it.
So here we are. 2018. Being afforded this opportunity to look back demonstrates how far we’ve come but we still have a long way to go. Nakkiah Lui presented an inspiring speech about this fourth wave of feminism and what it means for all women – of all ethnicities and economic backgrounds. Is this fourth wave Feminist Futurism? Is it Female Resistance? Lui comments, “I don’t know what the fourth wave is. Our strength is in our chaos….Whatever it is, it’s exciting.” And being in a room full of incredible women with so much passion – it was exciting – and made me feel as if we could achieve anything.
I have always believed that learning from the past is the best way not to repeat mistakes in the future. Today I learnt a great deal – about the history of feminism, about the women who lived it and about the kind of woman I want to be, embarking on this fourth wave with a hopeful heart and a loud, unrelenting voice.
By the way, the friend I mentioned, she may still not describe herself as a feminist, but today’s talk – by her own admission – made her think about things differently and really, that’s the first step.
Smashing the patriarchy
Chaired by the hilarious Van Badham, Smashing the patriarchy was an open panel discussion about how women (and men) can take steps to eliminate and reshape preconceived, patriarchal views of equality. The discussion ranged from politics and women’s rights in the age of Trump, toxic masculinity and how to raise socially conscious boys to the gender pay gap and killing people with kindness.
Something that really stuck in my mind was a point made by Clementine Ford – why is it women’s responsibility alone to solve the problem of smashing the patriarchy? Where is men’s responsibility in this scenario? We hear so often about violence against women and then these apparent ‘nice guys’ will be the first to argue it’s “not all men” – but what are they doing about it? The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. So speak up, get mad, have an opinion – but don’t think that by staying silent you are not contributing to the problem.
Barbara Kingsolver encourages women to “Get mad. Don’t be afraid of your own anger. Don’t apologise. Our anger together makes a huge difference.” Conversely, inspiring activist Manal al-Sharif often applies the killing them with kindness approach. Arrested in Saudi Arabia for driving, she really pushed home one clear point – “Be yourself. Nothing confuses the world more than being yourself.”
I guess for me, that is the over-arching message from these talks – feminism is not black and white – it is not one specific thing – it is many different things to many different people and that’s ok. But at the end of the day everyone – regardless of gender, race, age, background – deserve respect for being who they are, because there is nothing wrong with being who you are. We are all human, we all breathe in and out, eat, sleep, love – and when we join together in support of basic human rights – we are a force to be reckoned with.
All About Women was held at the Sydney Opera House on March 4, 2018.