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Brisbane International Feminist Conference: Opening Ceremony and the first day

September 18, 2008

Well I’m back from the conference and it was very good and interesting. What I really appreciated most about this conference was the inclusion of many strong Black/indigenous feminist voices. The indigenous women speakers were amazing.

The first speaker on the first day (which we were late to, thanks to Dragort) was Judy Atkinson. Who has written a book called Trauma Trails. She was fantastic, incredible, passionate and funny as. She spoke of her frustrations with white male academic institutions and she told this really hilarious story about what she said to her white male colleagues at the university (they all sounded like a bunch of Phallosophers). You can read an interview with Judy here.

I bought her book Trauma Trails and am looking forward to reading it.

The other event that was herstory-making and so, so inspiring was the first panel on the third day. It was a panel of same-sex attracted indigenous women, the first time that indigenous lesbians have ever convened a panel of that nature in the herstory of this country. It was just so powerful. We were all crying from the stories that these women had to tell. They were all so strong, and so incredibly brave to share their life and experiences with us, mostly white feminist crowd. We were all on our feet clapping at the end of their panel, there was such an overwhelming depth of feeling created by that panel. I can’t describe it. Everyone who commented just couldn’t get past stammering our thanks. It was a very humbling experience, being in the presence of such courageous Black women.

I think that these two panels/speakers are the ones that have burnt themselves most firmly into my memory. I know that I’ll carry these with me.

But also of major note was Kat’s paper on the pornification of lesbian spaces. I met Kat long ago at the Townsville Feminist Summit. She was ‘queer’ back then and a little taken aback by radical feminism. I was probably very rude to her, I can’t actually remember, but I myself had only just dropped the ‘queer’ label and had gotten consumed by radical feminism.

Anyway we talked a little and swapped emails. She planned to attend the APEC protests and we planned to meet up and march behind a feminist banner. So we did, and got to know each other a little better.

When Kat was planning to write her paper on lesbian spaces she asked if she could quote my blog post about the same issue. I of course was very flattered. So when we met up again in Brisbane Dragort, Dissenter, Kat, Kat’s friend from Perth Heidi, and I kind of formed this little group and just talked heaps about everything. We went out for drinks after the Opening Ceremony and just hung out.

Our last day in Brisbane was Saturday and we got together in the park and talked for like 5 hours!!! And didn’t get bored!!! Then we went clubbing at a gay bar which was fun.

I also caught up briefly with Caroline Norma, another woman I met at the Townsville conference, but she wasn’t there for the whole conference so we didn’t get the chance to really talk.

I suppose I should recount this in order of how it happened.

Tuesday Night: Opening Ceremony

Had difficulty finding the venue. Were told to avoid the park. Too dangerous for us little women!!! Of course the Jagera Arts Centre was in the middle of the park.
A wonderful welcome to country.
Lots of brilliant indigenous performers. Really great women-centred atmosphere.
Dragort got Henna tattoos on her hands.
Met Kat and Heidi. Started connecting immediately.
Went out to drinks. I couldn’t believe that people paid $14 for a small amount of liquid in a fancy glass. I stood at the bar totally gobsmacked for a good long while. Um… I… don’t get out much.

Dragort spoilt my night by recounting all of my embarrassing exploits to Kat and Heidi. How rude!!! There is this story about Easter eggs that she tells EVERYBODY. It is so, so mean. Have decided never to introduce her to any of my friends again.

Wednesday

Got there late. Grr.. Dragort. Missed the welcome to country and another indigenous woman’s speech. Caught most of Judy Atkinson’s speech. She was brilliant: see above.

After morning tea there was a really fantastic paper by Bronwyn Winter, titled: Talked up and played down: The global rhetoric and realities of women’s lives. Really interesting examination of how while women’s rights are being championed by governments around the world, the reality of women’s lives keeps getting worse.

Lavender, a woman I met at the Townsville conference, was sick and was unable to give her paper on Intergenerational sisterhood. Very upsetting because Lavender is a really beautiful woman.

Ana Borges paper on ‘gender’ issues in education was interesting. Of course she highlighted the lack of any kind of gender awareness in many schools and pointed out the fact that gender is just a euphemism for boys. Phallic drift anyone, or is it just a wandering dick? (sorry: in joke for anyone who has read Radically Speaking). But it is too typical, when someone says, examination of gender, what they invariably mean is the examination of why gender is bad or limiting for boys. No one gives a shit about girls.

Merci Angeles’ paper Feminism Through The Eyes Of Filipina Urban Poor Women, was a very moving paper. I met Merci in Townsville. She is an incredible woman and she works unbelievably hard for the rights and freedom of women in her country. She is a member of a group of women in the Philipines called Peace Women Partners. Her paper was about sisterhood and community among Filipina urban poor women. Women who lived under bridges, alongside polluted rivers, getting shunted around by the government into houses built a long way away from any employment. She concluded with a poem which left many of us in tears. As I said, a very moving paper.

The next session was equally brilliant and eye-opening. Debbie Kilroy spoke with Kim Pate, both activists and advocates for the rights of criminalized women. Both staunch abolitionists of prisons and the criminal injustice system. They spoke of the conditions in prisons and of the way that women are mistreated. Debbie Kilroy runs a very successful Sisters Inside group, which is a support network of survivors of the criminal injustice system who work and advocate for women currently imprisoned. Very necessary and important work. Of course the Queensland government have made it difficult, currently the group is banned from going into prisons to work with women as the group was responsible for highlighting abuse happening in prisons which led to an enquiry. Of course the government did not like this being exposed so they banned advocate groups like Sisters Inside.

Kim Pate is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. The website seems to be down but there are some of Kim Pate’s speeches online here. She ‘attended’ the conference via Skype. Some kind of newfangled internet link up. She does similar work in Canada and says they face very similar problems over there. I found the abolition argument very compelling and I have to say that I completely agree. I have always felt that prisons were not good social practice. (DUH!!!) It is good to know that I am not alone in my opposition to them.

The last session was on women and poverty. I enjoyed Hirut Haile’s paper on The Effects of Married Women’s Access to Credit on Intra-Household Expenditure Responsibilities in Ethiopia. She wasn’t wholely positive or negative about the effects of credit, which I appreciated. I also got a lot out of Lillian Geddess’ paper, How much pain can a woman afford?

So that was the first day. Hope you all enjoyed the run down. Will blog about the rest of the conference. Later.

13 comments

  1. Sounds wonderful Allecto. It’s curious (picking out the pornification of lesbian spaces issue). I don’t actually think it’s done to attract lesbians. I think it’s done to attract straight people who (dare I say it) spend more. (Oh and I’m – controversially – including women with male partners who go call themselves bisexual in that, because they’re usually bisexual in the same way I own a suit. My heart’s not in it, but someone told me it was required to meet someone else’s standards but I digress).

    Yeah I know lesbians who are into S/M and porn, but I know a lot – it seems to me the silent majority who aren’t really. It’s definitely an imposed from outside thing.


  2. Hey Polly,

    I think that this hyper-sexualising and pornifying lesbian spaces *is* imposed from the outside, and yes, it is in the interests of co-opting and colonising lesbian spaces, and I think there are lesbians opposed to this, but, at least in younger generations of lesbians (who might identitfy as queer), well, a lot of those women really have internalised these attitudes to a huge extent.

    Just to give one example: I moved to Sydney in 2004 (don’t live there any more). One of the first “queer” women I encountered, around my age, gave this paper on the lesbian scene in Sydney, and lesbian conceptions of community, and her entire paper revolved around pornography and stripping. As in, that was her idea of lesbian community. She was heavily involved in queer politics in Sydney, and was very active in the queer community. Her attitudes were pretty much the norm for the young, queer women living in Sydney, especially in the inner city where the “scene” is. Most gay and lesbian bars in Sydney now regularly have lesbian strip shows, model competitions, etc. And yes, that is partly about commodifying lesbians for heterosexuals, particularly men, but the problem is, that women within those communities, many of whom might not have a strong conception of identity to begin with, are easily influenced into believing that that is what lesbianism is.

    The only lesbian women I eventually found who didn’t think like this were women who were active in the Women’s Library. These women were more community focused, more political, generally had some grounding in feminism, weren’t into all the hypersexualisation of lesbianism, but almost all of them were older women, not the young crowd.


  3. Hmm. No I think tha the porny, violence stuff is being driven by ‘lesbians’. I mean the ideology is masculinist and male-supremacist, yes. But the women who are producing and benefitting financially from lesbian porn and hypersexualised spaces are pretty much mostly lesbians. For example, the Candy Bars in Britain are run and owned by a lesbian. The magazine Slit is owned by dykes and written for dykes. Most of the younger lesbians I know read that shit and participate in that shit actively.

    The free national lesbian mag, Lesbians on the Loose, always has misogynist advertising, with semi-clad women objectified on every page. They have lots of ads advertising strip nights etc. That magazine has a huge circulation and I have yet to meet a lesbian who hasn’t read it.

    Even in the lesbian bush walking group that Dissenter and I walk with, which is a group of older women, there are women who talk about learning to pole dance at a lesbian night in Sydney. The porny shit is everywhere in the scene. And lesbians actively consume it.

    I remember being really shocked when an older lesbian feminist I have a great deal of respect for put on a lesbian porn video. When I said that that wasn’t lesbianism I was called a prude. Anyway, it just hasn’t been my experience that it is a small minority of lesbians who are into all this porn and sexual exploitation of women in the the rape trade. Nor are the women I am talking about hetero(bi)sexual. 😦


  4. I agreed with you, Allecto, that most lesbian porn is made by lesbians. But I would not be surpised if they are financed by the male owners of the porn industry.
    To have women-owned and produced lesbian is very good publicity for the porn industry, for it is a way to show that porn is not harmful to women, and they enjoy it.
    The porn industry will only get involved to make a profit. Gay men have been a cash cow for many years -so it should come of no surpise that the porn industry should want to brainwash lesbians.
    Personally, I do not believe that lesbians are “innocent” in that. Many lesbians, not just young lesbians treat each other with coldness and as sex objects. I think has been part of the lesbian scene, especially in large cities, for many years.
    I find too much of the scene has the atmosphere of straight sex clubs that I had to work in. But is less honest.
    I find it only non-scene lesbians of any age that I can trust.


  5. I haven’t read Lesbians on the Loose. I’m only seventeen, do I count? 😛

    I only know two lesbian women and two bisexual women really well. Three of them are interested in the porny stuff, but the other gets really pissed off about it. Makes for some spirited debates.

    I see links between the pornification of lesbians and the pornifcation of feminists. Patriarchs don’t like to be threatened and they like having power. Pornification is an easy solution to appeasing men.

    Anyway, welcome back Allecto! I’m glad the convention was good.


  6. ‘Lesbians’ or capitalism Allecto? Yeah I agree that all the “lesbian” bars who are owned by lesbians are doing this stuff. But they all let straight people in! And they do it to make money. My local one is a horror story…this happened to me and a friend in there.

    http://thesizeofacow.wordpress.com/2008/04/20/dont-believe-the-truth/

    And things like The L word – yes they’re ostensibly for lesbians. But they have to be commercial as well.

    Lesbians can’t pick and choose their culture, particularly when lesbian feminism has been actively destroyed (which I really believe it has). There is no alternative. I think that a lot of young women are desperate simply to belong to a lesbian community and they belong to the only one that exists – the commercial one. Us oldies can remember a time when things were different. And we’re bloody minded of course, it’s really difficult to be strong when you’re young and just trying to find your identity. Not an ageist statement BTW. I DO know some incredibly strong minded young women!


  7. Yes, Rebecca. It is in men’s interest to have lesbians participating in porn. Men are definitely supportive of the porny dyke, not the lesbian feminist dyke.

    Hell, you are only 17. You’ll find Lesbians on the Loose when/if you go to uni. 😀 It is awesome reading your blog, by the way. Awesome to know that there are such cool, young lesbian feminists growing up out there, despite the fact that lesbian feminism has all but been erased. 😦

    Lesbians can’t pick and choose their culture, particularly when lesbian feminism has been actively destroyed (which I really believe it has). There is no alternative. I think that a lot of young women are desperate simply to belong to a lesbian community and they belong to the only one that exists – the commercial one. Us oldies can remember a time when things were different. And we’re bloody minded of course, it’s really difficult to be strong when you’re young and just trying to find your identity. Not an ageist statement BTW. I DO know some incredibly strong minded young women!

    Yep, totally agree on this Polly.


  8. And if anyone reading this hasn’t read “the lesbian heresy”, or “unpacking queer politics” by Sheila Jeffreys, you will find much to interest you in both.


  9. I’m distressed to hear about lesbian feminist culture being appropriated in this way. Lesbian feminists were the best of the best “back in the day” (esp. in the 70’s) and very influential on the entire culture of women (not just lesbians). On the bright side, the more people like allecto, hellonhairylegs, Polly, Amy’s Brain Today, and etc. who KEEP BLOGGING their perspective, the more of a chance that the tide will eventually turn. Keep putting the alternative out there, please!


  10. hey dani, i was thinking of starting up a cuntspeak carnival…partially in honour of the dead carnival against porn and prostitution, and also in honour of a celebratory, just sexual politics, as well as women of colour, etc. whaddaya think? 😀


  11. Brilliant idea, demonista. I’m for it 110%. Need any help setting it up?


  12. Awesome. I’ll put out a call out for it within a couple of days on my lj 🙂


  13. Here it is allecto!

    http://demonista.livejournal.com/101792.html



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