NYWF: young writers and the f word
This past Friday I found myself in Newcastle’s Royal Exchange with a room full of people who applauded a woman for refusing her partner sex when he said, ‘You don’t have to be a feminist in the bedroom.’ The woman was a member of the audience for the National Young Writers Festival’s event, Fucking while Feminist. The panel consisted of four women with varied takes on feminism: Hannah McCann, a PhD student and gender studies teacher at ANU, Grace Bellavue, a sex worker, blogger, and activist, Emmie Rae, a poet and founder of micro fiction and poetry night God Ate My Google Drive, and Alisha Jade, comics creator and runner of the Australian Chicks in Comics Tumblr. The audience was a mix of genders, and seemingly all there because they identified as feminists and believed in gender equality.
So, it was interesting when the panel started and Grace said she identified as a humanist and not a feminist. It immediately derailed the discussion. She said as a sex worker, she felt her lived experiences didn’t line up with the academics, and she felt feminism turned a blind eye towards male abuse victims. She claimed that the number of male and female victims is about the same, and it was at that point I realised that although she was a bisexual sex worker, it was very possible that Grace couldn’t see past her privilege as a traditionally attractive, able-bodied white cis-gender woman. I wasn’t the only audience member to be upset by Grace’s comments. Someone outwardly groaned and @zoyajpatel tweeted: ‘Now a panelist is claiming that men experience the same rates of gendered violence as women – flat out lie. Would love to see stats? #nywf14’. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there now about gendered violence statistics, starting with Buzzfeed’s video “proving” that male victims are less likely to be offered help, a video that even Time has linked to when trying to disparage Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign.
However, the Fucking while Feminist discussion was brought back around to bodily autonomy and consent.
Alisha discussed creators setting boundaries in their work, but people, especially teenagers, never being told to set boundaries in their relationships. Alisha said her friend creates pornographic comics, and when people ask her how to get started her first piece of advice is figure out what you will and will not draw, set your boundaries. Alisha asked the poignant question: why is this not the first thing we teach in sex ed? Grace agreed, telling the chilling story of her second job, where by the end she was bleeding and swollen, and it was only then that anyone at the brothel thought to tell her she had the right to say ‘no’.
Every industry has a problem with those in positions of power abusing that power: Emmie said in the last few days in her poetry community, a whole publication collapsed when an editor was outed as having abused several young women. It only took one of them writing about it, and another supporting her claims with her own stories. ‘Living on the Internet’, as Alisha put it, has changed the way we deal with abusers and rapists. Perpetrators can be called out and support networks can be founded for survivors. Grace added that social media is also helping sex workers find support and information. Every industry has its “bad guys”, but the internet and social media are helping to create supportive communities where these people can be called out for their actions, and the response is faster than ever before.
The event covered more than just sex: Hannah said when she was growing up she didn’t identify as a feminist because she liked make-up and dresses. She thought feminism meant she wasn’t allowed to wear what she liked. Her mother and grandmother were her feminist teachers and role models and she revolted against them at first. Now, while they all present themselves and their views in different ways, they’re a multi-generational feminist family. Since I was sitting next to my own fiercely feminist mother, Hannah’s story of her family really hit home for me.
The event felt too short, only running for an hour. So much more could have been covered, but even so it felt like a jam-packed hour. I think that’s the nature of a movement like feminism; it affects half the population and there are so many ways to live as a woman. The panellists all agreed that continual education about feminism, not just feminism that helps middle and upper class white women, but feminism that helps women with disabilities, women of colour, and trans and queer women, needs to be a priority, whether that’s through campaigns like #HeForShe or in our everyday lives. This event wasn’t what I expected, but Hannah summarised it pretty much perfectly on her Twitter:
@HannahKy: @zoyajpatel @lizzyish it wasn’t what I expected either, but I found the rawness of the stories told amazing #NYWF2014