Words by Camilla Patini, ACTWC Blogger in Residence
On Wednesday night Canberrans at The Front were privy to something rather special: three women on a panel (three!) discussing gender equality. The night was organised by Zoya Patel, the founder and editor of Feminartsy, an online literature and arts journal which features new pieces by a diverse and talented range of artists each month.
The panel was certainly picked with an eye to diversity, consisting of Renee Moretti Jones, a former Officer of the ANU’s Women’s Department, Tasnim Hossain, a spoken-word poet and practicing Muslim, and the fantastic Yen Eriksen, who said she ‘doesn’t identify with a mainstream concept about gender’, preferring to live outside the gender binary.
The panel covered topics ranging from Emma Watson’s speech, the pay gap, sexual violence and Apple and Facebook’s proposal to freeze women’s eggs until they decide to reproduce. At the heart of the discussion was a blatantly pro-feminist belief in the importance and relevance of feminism as an effective movement for gender equality.
As regards to Emma Watson’s speech, the general consensus seemed to be that it was a good thing. Patel expressed her reservations, however, explaining how the speech made her feel uncomfortable: ‘Why is this a revelation? That women are feminists? Why do we get so excited?’, she asked. The panel did, however, acknowledge that it is important for women to come out in the public eye and say that they are on the side of feminism. Here, Eriksen took the opportunity to point out that what often gets left out of the conversation in these kinds of debates is the necessity of engaging in a dialogue about privilege and power. ‘Men still get the greater dividends and benefits’, she said. Feminism is useful because it gives us a way of talking about structural oppression and allows us to unmask the ways in which the needs of men are often prioritised while those of women are deprioritised.
A point which I found particularly interesting was Eriksen’s statement that ‘practical issues are often overshadowed by the debate on identity politics’. This debate is important but I agree and see that there is great value in connecting feminism more closely to lived experience and practical issues. As Eriksen said, ‘it’s about what it means to live feminism, and do the right thing by your gender and your body’.
The panel not only consisted of an abundance of considered opinion but a great wealth of humour as well. It covered popular and misguided perceptions of feminists as ‘scary people with hairy legs’ and ‘man-hating, shrill-voiced hags’ to the ways in which we can change and question people’s ideas about gender. It turns out that Patel employs what she calls her ‘high-pitched feminist voice’, which, laden with so much politeness, tends to dumbfound people and make them question what it is they are really saying. Renee advised the audience to find a group of similar, like-minded people in which to vent one’s feminist feels. Sophie Verass, in the audience, expressed a great one of these feminist feels. On the topic of angry feminists: ‘We live in an oppressed society – why the f**k wouldn’t I be angry?’ You go girl.
It was a excellent evening, which finished off with a fantastic performance from band Cracked Actor. As a member of the audience so wisely said: ‘Tunes and feminism – what more could one want?’ It is thrilling to see that my city has such a vibrant arts scene and that there are so many young, intelligent, and engaged people. Canberra, you do me proud.
Camilla Patini is an undergraduate student at the Australian National University where she studies History and English Literature. She writes book reviews and until recently, a column on love and relationships for Lip Magazine . Her writing has also appeared in Woroni and rippublishing.