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All About Women’s curator gives us the lowdown on next year’s festival

Emma Joyce

It’s time to save the date for next year’s All About Women – a one-day festival of talks, workshops and live podcast recordings, returning for its seventh year on Sunday March 10.

Dr Edwina Throsby, head of Talks and Ideas at the Sydney Opera House, has announced the first 12 speakers and two workshop guests that she hopes will progress conversations we’re already having around toxic masculinity and #MeToo, introduce new ones like ‘hip-hop feminism’, and bring in more new voices to the forum that might not been invited in the past.

Throsby says, “I’ve tried to look ahead and think about the feminism that we want to see in five, ten or 50 years’ time – and who are the people now who are most likely to be shaping that future feminism. Last year was so much about identity, and I think that was really important, but this year I want to go beyond identity and look at the structural and systemic causes of inequality and think about who is doing the most powerful work that acknowledges that feminism isn’t just a white, middle-class, Western movement.”

Featured on the program so far is Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Emily Steel, who investigated sexual harassment claims against Fox News host Bill O'Reilly; Indian author Sohaila Abdulali, a former rape crisis centre worker and the first Indian gang rape survivor to speak out about her experience; and UK fashion stylist Ayishat Akanbi, a cultural commentator who’s spoken out against wokeness and ‘call-out’ culture.

“Ayishat exploded into my newsfeed a while ago, and most recently with a video called The Problem with Wokeness. In it she really critiques the dominant thinking about being woke, and says one of the issues with it is that foregrounding identity is actually limiting, and robs us of our kindness and compassion.

“And that is, in the current environment, a really brave thing to say,” says Throsby. “She told me that she had to think really hard about uploading it because she was terrified about what the reaction might be, particularly among her friends and peers. I think it is something people want to engage in and haven’t really had the hook, or been given the permission I suppose.”

Illustration of Ayishat Akanbi by Aurelie Garnier

Another contemporary issue on All About Women’s program is how to reconcile being a feminist and being a hip-hop fan: “Joan Morgan has been writing about the difficulty of being a feminist hip-hop fan. It’s like what do you do when the music you love is full of ‘bitch’ and ‘ho’? She’s going to be talking about that, which she does brilliantly, but the other thing I’m pleased she’s talking about is the seminal cultural history of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and the impact Lauryn Hill had on hip-hop culture.”

Another US speaker is Sarah Smarsh who has written a memoir called Heartland: Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth. “It entails her experience growing up in a dirt-poor Kansas as the daughter of a teenage mother, who was the daughter of a teenage mother, and so on,” says Throsby. “I think class is something that is often forgotten when you’re thinking about intersectionality.”

Throsby’s also working with Arab-Australian human rights and refugee advocate Sara Saleh to bring together activist voices from across the Middle East, and she’s programmed a talk from Leta Hong Fincher – a Chinese-American journalist and author of Betraying Big Brother (detailing the case of the ‘Feminist Five’ in China) to understand more deeply the dynamic feminist activism taking place outside of the Western World.

Soraya Chemaly headshot by Karen Sayre
Soraya Chemaly
Photograph: Karen Sayre

I feel pretty proud of it, and I hope that the community embraces it and signs up to events because they’re interested in the role of class, or in learning more about how the movement is going elsewhere in the world, or they’re interested in somebody like Soraya Chemaly, who might not be a household name, is talking about something as important as rage – and how it is read differently in women and men.”

In addition to the main speakers, there’ll be a stellar podcast program, which includes live recordings from Slate’s The Waves and The Cut on Tuesdays – “I think having both The Cut and The Waves in the House makes the podcast hub massively strong and gives Sydneysiders the chance to get really intimate with a communication form which I think will absolutely shape the future of feminism. I think it’s doing it already, but it’ll continue to do so.”

They’re also experimenting with a three-hour rolling discussion between speakers and guests, inspired by Nat Randall’s The Second Woman (Liveworks 2017): “Every five minutes the dynamic will shift; one person will leave the stage and one person will join. You might be seated next to someone who you’ve bought tickets to see that day, or meet somebody who you’ll become friends with... It’ll be a huge equaliser I think. The idea is to build an atmosphere where people can say what’s important in their lives now, personally or politically, and where they see feminism going and what it’ll look like.”

Female Tradie Penny Petridis
Female Tradie Penny Petridis

Continuing last year’s edition of practical workshops, there’ll be a floristry workshop with Sophia Kaplan of Leaf Supply, and a carpentry workshop with Female Tradie, Penny Petridis.

I wanted to put something like this on our program as I for one am so ashamed of how hopeless I am with this sort of stuff. I really feel that every woman should be able to change a tyre, change a washer, do basic carpentry – it just should be something we know how to do and very few women do.”

All About Women returns on Sunday March 10, 2019 at Sydney Opera House. Tickets start from $33 and go on sale from 9am on Friday December 14.

If March feels too far away, here's what's coming up in January.

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