In 2019, is International Women's Day more exhausting than celebratory?
On 8 March this year, we discussed personal, structural, cultural and popular feminism with panellists Atong Atem, Bhenji Ra, Lisy Kane, Santilla Chingaipe and Nayuka Gorrie and host Leila Gurruwiwi.
These are some of the provocations that emerged from the discussion.
NB. transcribed quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity – for the full context, check out the video recording of the conversation.
Has IWD lost its purpose?
Lisy: Firstly, for me [the day] is a massive celebration; I get to celebrate being a woman. But secondly, it's where I get to laugh at all the corporations making big mistakes and show their true colours. I swear some of them don't even ask a woman to proofread their copy.
Atong: For me, similarly, it makes me think of corporates trying to cash in on momentum, without necessarily doing the hard work that comes with it... But being in Melbourne and seeing a lot of grassroots activism, it's changed my perspective and even my relationship to institutions. It's possible for institutions to do the right thing when they listen.
Santilla: IWD has been hijacked by capitalism. This idea of the day has been lost. When talking about gender inequality and why women advocating for equality for centuries... this was traditionally led by working-class women... Celebrities and corporations spew forth "smash the patriarchy" and benefit financially from that. You want to talk about boards? I want to talk about how some women can't get a job.
Has the popularity of feminism sucked the guts out of it?
Atong: My frustration is with feel-good feminism, the girl-power, you can do it, pink feminism. When we understand the heaviness of these concepts, we can unpack things beyond performativity; we can actually do things. When the most oppressed people in the community are lifted up and centred, everyone will benefit. And when feminism doesn't speak that, it fails.
Bhenji: A small comment on the accessibility of capitalist feminism: when you have to be able to fit this easily consumable, likeable box on the 'gram or Twitter, so much language, history and bodies gets lost. It just keeps homogenising this canon of feminism when we really should be thinking about ancestral feminism, the genealogy of feminism, where it can slip away from the English language and the Western canon.
Feminism lives in communities.
Bhenji: When you're someone who is not of the white, cis, normative womanhood canon, people look to you to speak. And that often makes me feel pressured.
A lot of this work hasn't been spent on my community, and I think I want to spend these days with my girls. Maybe that is a shift that I can think about in my life.
There's a power imbalance in who's setting the agenda when it comes to storytelling.
Bhenji: I think if we're talking about popular feminism's inclusion trans and gender diverse people, non binary people, we're not even scratching the surface. There's no story I relate to... My biggest frustration with the trans stories on TV is that they're not trans writers or gender diverse writers. We're still the ones being "invited" in to play those roles, instead of us inviting people into our stories.
Leila: People constantly want to tell "the Indigenous story" but they don't allow Indigenous people to be in those spaces and tell those stories.
Black people don't want to do Black work in a white way.
Nayuka: I'm interested in Black producers... What would it mean to create a Black TV show that wasn't done in the way that white people have told us is the way to create a TV show? I want to do it in a way that doesn't feel shit for the Black people involved, I want it to be a Black way of working. It's a step beyond decolonising, it's Indigenising... it needs to be a Black way of working.
Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel, and check out some of the panel's recommendations:
- Atong recommended The Queer Art of Failure by Judith/Jack Halberstam, anything by Octavia Butler, and getting a Twitter account.
- Nayuka recommended the poetry of Audre Lord, and Talkin' Up to the White Woman: Indigenous Women and Feminism by Aileen Moreton-Robinson, following Chelsea Bond on Twitter, and the podcast Wild Black Women.
- Lisy recommended Creativity Inc, about the inner workings of Pixar.
- Bhenji recommended Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity by José Esteban Muñoz, and the YouTube channel Ballroom Throwback TV.
- Santilla recommended checking out her body of work.