I went to the All About Women talks at the Sydney Opera House. I can say all the usual stuff about it being thought-provoking, a great initiative, but not particularly interesting. I will however talk about how people seem to think women who participate in society and do stuff and things are immediately feminists, while men who are interested and well-versed in the cause need to go through some sort of gauntlet and may still be relegated to “ally”.
I went to see the fantastic Clementine Ford chair a talk with the not-so-fantastic Clark Beaumont. Ok, I may be a bit harsh, standing on a plank of wood holding each other might be a genius piece of artwork for 13 Rooms, but Sarah Clark and Nicole Beaumont were a very strange choice for a feminist speech event. Let’s ignore the fact that they’ve barely started their twenties; Clementine launched into questions on their previous work, She’ll Be Right, involving the pair re-enacting scenes from ‘Australiana’ movies like The Castle and Muriel’s Wedding in an attempt to de-construct the portrayal of Australian culture in film.
They’re asked specifically about the portrayal of women in Australian film, and I already have to stifle a groan as they begin to reel off movies from the 90s like they think our film industry spontaneously combusted around 2002. But nothing could prepare me for when they decided to name Priscilla: Queen of the Desert as an example of a portrayal of women in Australian film.
Clementine, clearly as confused as the rest of the audience, prompted the art-duo to explain themselves a little further, and the best they could muster was “Well it’s like, about dressing as women, and y’know, that’s fun!” OK, I’m paraphrasing and letting my bias get the better of me, but I’m flabbergasted that the idea that men dressing up as women is a portrayal of women. It’s like describing Wilfred as being a realistic portrayal of dogs. Despite the fact they failed to mention a multitude of amazing film such as The Jammed, Alexandra’s Project, Beneath Clouds, The Sapphires, Sleeping Beauty etc. they just sounded like they had no idea what they were talking about.
If I had gone to see them at 13 Rooms, maybe I would have barely forgiven them for their completely shocking lack of Australian film knowledge. But I was at All About Women, looking at the people either side of me, wondering if this was actually a Clark Beaumont art installation created about deconstructing the notion of feminism and intelligence, or if they were actually serious. Unfortunately for my mental well-being, it was the latter.
Which brings me to my point – just because they are women, with relative success in their chosen field of expression, this does not make them a fantastic proponent of feminism, or informed in any in-depth analysis of women in Australia. Shocking, I know. They may have earned their place in 13 Rooms, but they almost certainly did not belong next to Leymah Gbowee and Aayan Hirsi Ali at the Opera House.
In contrast, I attended the light-hearted debate later that night, the question at hand being “Can Men Be Feminists?” Despite the disaster that is Bob Ellis, the debate hit a nerve with me. Mostly because the only argument I could gather for men to not be feminists was that they did not have the same experience as women and therefore could not fully understand the cause. Once again, flabbergasted. What is this collective female consciousness that gets invoked every time someone hears the phrase ‘male feminist’? My experience of being a woman is different to your experience is different to a Muslim woman’s experience is different to a 70-year-old woman’s experience. Would you seriously deny a trans* woman the right to call herself a feminist because she did not have the same experience as you did growing up?
How does this art duo that, at most, probably took a couple of gender subjects at Uni, get welcomed with open arms by the event co-ordinators, while the best male feminists can hope for is to stand on stage next to Bob fucking Ellis.
Instead of settling on some women who happen to be in town for an art performance, and paying them to speak at a day of intellectual feminist debate they are not at all versed in, maybe an Aboriginal woman would have been the answer? Y’know, even just one? If you’re able to fly Leymah Gbowee 29 hours to Sydney, would it have been any more difficult to fly, say, Celeste Liddle the 2 hours from Melbourne? What happened to the idea of intersectionality? You want to talk about a problem in feminism, maybe step away from the man/woman issue and take a look at the fact that the ‘black’ quota here was fulfilled by people who don’t even live anywhere near Australia. Who are not Australian. Who are not Indigenous Australian.
How about we all stop having panic attacks about who we allow in our special little club, and just focus on the damned philosophy? What are you achieving by setting up ambiguous rules about who gets to be called what, and in the process alienating everyone (especially Indigenous Australians)? Because, when the time comes and I attend another feminist talk, if I have to sit through another 20 year old’s explanation of why The Castle should still be analysed after you’ve left high school, I may just have to break into their family home, eat all the sponge cake, and take a sledgehammer to their precious pool room.