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Scarlett Harris reports from Sydney's All About Women Festival.
Author of the books The Dead Ladies Project, The Creative Tarot, the recently released I’m Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, and editor of the shuttered book blog Book Slut, Jessa Crispin was presented as the “contrarian” of the All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday.
Though I haven’t yet read I’m Not a Feminist, the opening chapter did the rounds on feminist websites last week and Crispin argues in it that feminism has become “banal, as non-threatening and ineffective as possible… In other words, it has to become entirely pointless.”
Crowds At All About Women: Image Courtesy Sydney Opera House
Other feminist writers have similarly lamented the rise of a sort of commercialised feminism, most notably Bitch magazine founder Andi Zeisler in last year’s We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying & Selling of a Political Movement, or an individualised feminism in which women identify as feminist therefore anything they do is a feminist act. Hell, I even wrote about it myself.
The All About Women festival could be considered an exercise in commercialised feminism—or “choice feminism”, “gateway feminism” or “lifestyle feminism” – terms which Crispin and moderator/festival organiser Danielle Harvey threw into the mix and defined as an excuse to participate in the cool parts of feminism but not to actually change your life or behaviours.
There is also the spectre of a lack of intersectionality, with the cost of the event and the fact that it occurs the morning after Mardi Gras being factors that might prevent certain kinds of women from attending. I asked Crispin as much during question time.
“It depends on what you do with [gateway/lifestyle feminism]. What do you take away from this experience?” she said. “Do you have your little bag and button that you wear on your clothing or do you change your behaviour and the way you participate in your life? I don’t have any problem with people learning. I’m not saying that if you haven’t figured it out by now, then go fuck yourself. Everybody has their moment of awakening and it happens at any time. As much as we can do to promote the ability for people to have an awakening rather than just to coddle them with slogans, I think that’s the important work.”
Jessica Crispin: Image Courtesty Sydney Opera House
Placing an emphasis on the stuff you can buy to indicate you’re a feminist (I wrote the notes for this article in a “Feminist as Fuck”-branded notebook, albeit one that was gifted to me), the Women’s March’s pussy hats were called to mind. I was lucky enough to have already planned a trip to Washington D.C. when the Women’s March occurred, and friends who have never vocally expressed a knowledge of or vested interest in gender equality before asked me to procure them a hat. Even older feminists such as Anne Summers, who facilitated All About Women panelist Lindy West’s Melbourne talk last week (perhaps Brodie Lancaster would have been a better choice?), seem to be unaware that pink pussy hats ignore the fact that not all pussies are pink, not all women have pussies and not all people with pussies are women, as someone in attendance pointed out.
The Women’s March has also drawn ire for organising a strike this Wednesday for International Women’s Day which, as with All About Women, many lower-paid women are unable to participate in.
Van Badham, Lindy West and Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s “Nasty Women” panel addressed this and expanded on some of the ideas in Crispin’s book. Badham reminded us that, as the Women’s March is honouring, International Women’s Day began as a garment worker's union movement. “If you’re not a member of a trade union or a community organisation, you’re doing feminism wrong,” Badham urged.
Image Courtesy Sydney Opera House
Abdel-Magied also talked about finding a balance between an individual, lifestyle or gateway feminism that operates within a capitalist patriarchy and “smashing those systems”. West, who has repeatedly acknowledged her white, middle class privilege throughout her appearances in Australia (though her panel with Summers got a bit White Feministy, as I already mentioned), reminded those who may have been newly awakened by activism in the wake of the U.S. election that “people have been fighting for equality for generations: [activism] is not a hobby you can pick up and put down.”
Crispin expressed concern over outrage feminism and social media campaigns to get people, and specifically men, fired for making mistakes, as fellow festival headliner Clementine Ford did last year. Again, one could argue that I Am Not a Feminist could be construed as trading in outrage feminism, and I noticed a palpable anger simmering below the surface of Crispin’s appearances. But aren’t outrage and anger powerful tools to keep us engaged in activism and prevent us from becoming complacent?
I think what Crispin was trying to get across was that feminism should express “compassion, generosity and taking things within context”, not expressing glee at the failures of men. “Isn’t that what feminism is fighting for, for men to be able to express emotion and be vulnerable?” Ford would argue that feminism isn’t about men at all, and Aussie feminist Eva Cox, who delightfully revealed herself to be in attendance at Crispin’s talk, brought up the old adage that feminists “seeking equality with men means we lack ambition”. It was an important reminder that feminism is about not only equality for women, but equality for everyone, and that can only happen by Smashing the Patriarchy™ and assembling in its place fairer systems. In the meantime, we have pink hats and “pussy grabs back” tote bags.
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Scarlett Harris is a regional Victoria-based freelance writer, musing about femin- and other -isms.
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