Technology is decentralising feminism away from focusing on white, middle-upper class women to a more inclusive interpretation, a panel of experts has said.
An audience at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on Friday night heard veteran journalist Virginia Trioli and writers Laurie Penny and Sisonke Msimang debate the role of the internet and minority groups in being heard.
“The idea is that there is a ‘centre feminism’, and the centre is always a white, middle-upper class woman in the English speaking world, who can probably afford childcare, and queer feminism, disabled feminism or trans feminism is something off to the side,” said Ms Penny.
“If the internet can give us anything, it can give us the opportunity to abandon the centre.”
Ms Trioli added she believed while the movement had in the past aided certain groups more than others, the intention of feminism was always to include everyone.
“I have always believed that feminism is a rising tide that lifts all boats,” she said. “It can even lift the men from their straightjackets if they could just get on the bloody boat.”
Held at Carriageworks in Eveleigh, the panel titled The Feminists are Coming was the Friday night festival highlight of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Over seven days from April 26 to May 2, the festival is a ‘celebration of ideas’ and allows platforms for writers, journalists and readers to discuss the leading issues and public debates of the year.
The feminists have come, they’ve been; they’re tired, they want to go home.
The Feminists are Coming was a place to discuss the changing role of gender equality across generations, and how a new wave of high profile women – such as Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins – are using new platforms to create change.
So, where are the feminists?
“The feminists have come, they’ve been; they’re tired, they want to go home,” said Ms Trioli.
The popular ABC journalist who has recently released a 25-year anniversary edition of her book Generation F: Sex, Power and the Young Feminist, has been a feminist in the public eye for over 20 years.
Ms Penny, who is a freelance journalist and writer, has over 10 years of experience covering and writing about the intersections of gender and sex in society.
Ms Msimang is a writer and political analyst from South Africa who has three published books on race and gender, and has provided insight on race and gender politics on shows such as the ABC’s Q&A.
All three panel members have experience working in the gender equity space, but acknowledge that their writing cannot encompass every subsection of society.
“There are different opportunities to what accountability can look like in the age of the internet,” said Ms Penny.
“Modern feminism that comes from women and femmes in their early ’20s, ’30s, are not just more diverse but are more driven by the voices of women of colour and indigenous women.”
That doesn’t change the need for accountability and justice, it just makes it more complicated.
Ms Penny said there was a risk of involving the police in cases of abuse, especially when the survivors were not favoured by the system in addition to being women.
“The idea that if something goes wrong, you go to the police, isn’t what everyone goes to,” said Ms Penny.
“That doesn’t change the need for accountability and justice, it just makes it more complicated.”
Academics, activists and writers on the topic often demand the need for inclusion of other aspects of life, including race, socio-economic income, and disability, as these intersections can alter the everyday experience of a woman.
Despite the panel’s agreement the gender equity movement needed to be more considerate of other identities, the emphasis remained on continuing to try.
For Ms Trioli, this meant having to rewrite her book to take into consideration her changing understanding of feminism and the role gender has in society, including experiences of women who were not similar to her.
For those attending, there was a simple question – how can these platforms help people who are furious with what is happening?
Anger continues to fester amongst the public as news around gender equity continues to circulate. Brittany Higgins in particular – a former Parliament House staffer who alleges her co-worker raped her in 2019 – has inspired a drive for change not seen since the 2017 #metoo movement.
The audience was looking for answers on how to help make change on a grand scale.
However, Ms Penny said she believed there is something more important to advancing gender equity – looking after each other.
“If you don’t know what to do with your feminism, when you have some time, just give a call to one of your friends who has two jobs and kids and is living within a system that doesn’t make that easy for them. Ask or offer how to help them in some way,” she said.
Ms Msimang’s said it was a world where it is okay to make mistakes.
“Mistakes are precisely what feminism is about,” she added. “If we don’t take the risks and we don’t make mistakes, then our struggle will be even more incomplete.”
Main picture is of Virginia Trioli, right, with writers Laurie Penny, centre, and Sisonke Msimang. Photo: Kay Powell