This week I went to the APSA Conference at Macquarie Uni to give the first of my papers. I did my first year of uni at Macquarie, and it’s right near where I grew up, so it was kind of nice to be back there for a few days. It’s a beautiful campus (imho). I also met some very lovely and likeminded people.

Now I’m back at UNSW, trying to complete plans and preparations for next week’s travel while at the same time trying to ignore the fact that I seem to be sick AGAIN. Am looking forward to settling in to my Hilton bed in Milwaukee. Yeah. Not so much the 6 nights in an overpriced Chicago dosshouse. I bought a guidebook to Chicago yesterday and it looks like fun. I am a lucky kid.

But before I get back to travel planning, I want to address something that I noticed at the conference. There was a lot of papers given that were relevant to my research. The first day was chock-a-block with media politics stuff. The second day was chock-a-block with feminism and gender studies related stuff. In particular, I shared my morning session with two other young feminist scholars talking about (more or less) the state of contemporary feminism, and then in the afternoon there was an “intergenerational conversation” between Anne Summers, Marian Sawer and Emily Maguire.

The most worrying thing about this conversation (which I suppose was inevitable from the way it was framed and the people chosen to participate) was the development of a discourse in which contemporary feminism was framed in the following way: young women are alienated from feminism, young women are not angry (if anything they prefer to be/feel “empowered” rather than angry), there is no longer an external movement (as opposed to femocrats). Many people made excellent points, in particular Marian Sawer in saying that “empowerment” is no alternative to rage, and that anger is really necessary for social movement action. And also I was in agreement with a lot of what Emily Maguire said. But I was incredibly disappointed by the pervasiveness of (as someone said to me afterwards) this language of young women’s deficits. Also worrying is the repeated concept that young feminists should be considered as somehow separate and distinct from feminists who aren’t young. Also that if there are many young women who aren’t feminists (which I don’t deny), it follows that there is NO active women’s movement at all. I put up my hand and said, basically, young women ARE angry, and there IS a movement, but the conversation moved on very quickly from that. It’s a very unpopular position to hold, when the media constantly says that feminism is dead, but it is disappointing when feminists say it too. Because it brings up, again, the issue of INVISIBILITY. Young (and I hate making that distinction, because it seems less than meaningful to me, to distinguish between younger and older feminists) women, when they do engage in politics, are erased. Even in my session, the first speaker was basically reiterating the claim that young women are politically inactive, and when I stand up afterwards and say, well, look at all these feminists doing amazing things online in overtly political and active ways and then for there to be a conversation afterwards about how young women aren’t active in feminism…

I don’t know, cognitive dissonance. Am I being a crazy idealist in thinking that was is happening in the feminist blogosphere is huge and amazing? I don’t think so. And I thought that all that is necessary is for people to be aware of it and see the incredible activism that is going on. But perhaps I was wrong, and the investment in the idea that feminism is in abeyance has a much greater hold. You understand, I am not disagreeing that there is a lot of hostility to feminist ideas at this point in time, but I strongly disagree that feminism has been rendered inactive as a result.

See also: Women have not been silent and blogging IS activism.


3 Responses to “Conferences”

  1. 1 Claire

    Hey my love!

    No you are not a fucking idealist! Yes we’re not really coherent as a movement – but there is heaps of hot shit feminist action going on. And another thing it is mainly WHITE women who think they can speak on behalf of feminism, young women and WOMEN OF COLOUR as well.

    And feminists also have to get over the idea that there is complete hostility to feminist ideas. Not that I think you’re saying that – but I mean feminist academics. But that’s another story.

  2. 2 ana australiana

    Hey FS! Following on from Claire – I suspect that this discourse persists because the ‘older’ generation of Australian feminists found/find it so hard to swallow that women’s experience was not universal (or universalize-able) – that gender intersects with other categories of experience, particularly race and class. It was/is hard to swallow because of the assumption that, if women’s experience is not universalisable (new word?!), then there can’t be a coherent social movement. Under this logic, the only alternative is political quietism/individualism (= young women’s deficit, something Anita Harris has also pointed out on a slightly different tack:

    I think there is still much to be made of the impact on the Australian white women’s feminist movement of debates such as that represented by the “Bell-Huggins” debate in the late 80s/early 90s. White women base/d their feminism deeply in the individual’s sovereignty over the body (the right to abortion, to say no, to say yes, etc) which Indigenous women like Huggins ‘exposed’ as being culturally specific (Christine Helliwell’s article ‘It’s only a penis’ has a similar take) and part of the reason why they didn’t feel any affinity with feminism. I wonder if the Australian feminist blogosphere very much reflects the ‘traditional’ concerns of the white women’s movement* (e.g. access to abortion, freedom from sexual harassment & rape, equal pay, resistance to circumscribed body image etc) but has much more of an ear (and heart) for the ‘politics of difference’** – meaning we won’t see a 70’s style liberation movement, but that doesn’t mean women aren’t reflecting or angry or organising.

    *Oz femo girl blogs certainly seem to share a love of vintage full-bosomed girlie pics deployed to maximum ironic/resignification effect!
    **To varying degrees of course – I’d put Hoyden about Town at one end and Audrey Apple at another!

  3. I am an older (58) feminist and blogger (we follow some of the same blogs) and I do find that young women’s feminism is different from mine – but so it should be. I don’t own feminism! Actually, I think that many older feminists have fallen into the trap of discounting blogs as being ‘fringe’ or ‘narcissistic’ – which is, ironically, exactly what people said about feminism when we were young – and they don’t take feminist blogging (or any other kind of blogging) seriously.

    But I find that many younger feminists seem to be angry that feminism in the 60s and 70s didn’t fix everything, and feel cheated somehow that their lives aren’t perfect. One even tried to tell me that young women’s lives today are worse than mine was in the 1960s and 70s. I don’t think she believed me when I tried to explain that in my youth you couldn’t get contraception unless you were married, there was no legal abortion, and women who left their husbands had no automatic right to any of their husband’s income or joint property, or even to the custody of their children. Of course life isn’t perfect; it never will be. Your lives are different from ours; harder in some ways and easier in others (we had a lot more domestic work with no dishwashers or automatic washing machines, for example). But on balance women have a lot more choices now – and supporting women’s rights to make choices is at the basis of feminism, as Deborah has recently pointed out.


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