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Stand out events at All About Women, but what's next?

07 March 2018

All About Women 4 hand wave

Ruby spent the day on Sunday (March 4) at the All About Women (AAW) Festival. The festival, which has now completed its sixth appearance at the Sydney Opera House, ticked a lot of the “I” boxes: it was inspiring and involving and a great lead into International Women’s Day. As for inclusive? At one of the first events of the morning, ‘disability and intersectionality’, the four-person panel came down overwhelmingly on the side that feminism often forgets people with disabilities – just as society does – paying lip service alone.

Take the story of panel member Katharine Annear, an academic who is still asked by her colleagues to explain her “disability story” when she attends events or conferences as a speaker – as if she is, as she put it, some sort of zoological exhibit.

Katharine also works in a community library. On any day of the week the library will be accessed by all sorts of members of the community, including people with disabilities and intellectual disabilities. Katharine is often asked by other users; “why is that man sitting in the children’s area looking at books or why are those people in here?” Katharine points out to the complainants: “they’re members of the community like you, and, like you, they’re our customers.”

A number of the big ticket items on the AAW schedule, including ‘grabbing back: women in the age of trump’ with Francesca Donner, Fran Lebowitz and Sophia Nelson; ‘#metoo: the making of a movement’ with Tarana Burke and Tracey Spicer; ‘beauty as resistance’ with Rebecca Walker, and ‘suffragettes to social media: waves of feminism’ with Barbara Caine, Nakkiah Lui, Anne Summers and Rebecca Walker, were beamed around the country to participating venues so that those who couldn’t reach Sydney could still participate. Westpac sponsored these satellite events, as well as the inclusion of Auslan translators at many of the sessions.

I had tickets to six of a possible 28 events scheduled on the day. One of them, the second fastest to sell out, according to box-office figures, was ‘who’s afraid of fran lebowitz?’ (Apparently, the first event to sell out was the ‘design your own gin’ workshop with gin brand Archie Rose.)

Fran Lebowitz is a sort of female Woody Allen. She’s an unrepentant New Yorker. A writer with an acerbic, politically incorrect wit, who loathes dogs on planes and Donald Trump, and blames Abraham Lincoln for the mess America is in today. Lebowitz was also dreading the trip to Australia.

She smokes, a lot, like the opinions she holds.

The over-arching impression was of a walking quote, and relief that I was not interviewing her. Lebowitz is formidably scathing.

Yumi Stynes’ ‘ladies, we need to talk – podcast’ was a frothier but still squirmy experience. Yumi, who presents the wildly successful ABC radio podcast on female health and sexuality, set us (her audience) the task of examining the gender orgasm (rather than pay) gap. Based on research done by her and her well-qualified panel guests, writer and comedian Nakkiah Lui, sex therapist Tanya Koens and Dolly Dr, Dr Melissa Kang, there is a yawning gap in equality between men’s and women’s pleasure. She had us all singing along to Lily Allen’s Not Fair before lunch.

‘#metoo: the making of a movement’ with Tarana Burke (by satellite, and pictured below) and Tracey Spicer (live on stage) was the unexpected winner of the day, to me. Tarana’s metoo hashtag began way before Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behaviour was finally laid bare and punished, but it has now become synonymous with the movement to rid workplaces and society of sexual harassment and bullying. Most importantly, to Tarana, the movement needs to remain aware of the survivors and to supply a trajectory for those who have experienced trauma to be able to move on with their lives. In order to move on, survivors need, as Tarana puts it, “to lean into joy”. That is up to survivors to find, but it is up to all of us to support them in the journey and ‘find a cure’, so to speak.

As Tarana pointed out, if the 15 million people or so who have identified with the movement had all come down with some new disease, the world would be working on a cure right now.

We should all be pressing for progress on this one.

Tarana Burke


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