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Honi Does Sydney Writer’s Festival – Mistakes We’ve Made and Other Lessons in Feminism

Journalist Annabel Crabb, novelist Amy Bloom, former Queensland premier Anna Bligh and Indonesian activist Ayu Utami speak with Tracy Spicer about the dos and don’ts of feminism.

It seems that every other month I attend a panel discussion on feminism. Every time, I walk away feeling more fired up than ever, having learned new perspectives and stories to build my understanding. This panel however, did the opposite. It was the epitome of privilege, where discussion centered on choice not for every woman, but for white women.

Despite the inspiring line-up, it lacked any semblance of progressive and exciting movement. There was only one woman of colour, the fantastic Ayu Atami, whose opinions were occasionally asked for but never elaborated upon. She provided a unique perspective, particularly as someone who has fought for press freedom and challenged conventional understandings of sexuality in Indonesia, yet this was hardly discussed. Instead, we listened to the pains of women having to do housework, and gender divide in the workforce. This is important, but it’s merely skimming the surface of an intersectional, complex issue. Indeed, this panel was more like feminism 101; the first chapter in a book for older wealthy white women who are embracing the tame idea of equality, rather then equity, for the first time since the 70s.

There were some shining moments – Tracey Spicer broaching the topic of trans women, Amy Bloom discussing experiences of intersexuality and Utami outlining the Hindu epic Ramayana. Yet these ideas were merely stated, they weren’t discussed. Instead, we had a 10-minute dialogue on the implications of women wearing the burqa, which stirred up the crowd more than any other aspect of the panel. This unfortunate moment encapsulated the entire evening, where mistakes in feminism were made, and clearly there’s a lot more still to learn.