Owning the F word

Anna Bernasconi

Pop your phones on silent, or vibrate, if you want to have a really good time,” said Natasha Mitchell, ABC broadcaster and host of the launch of Virago’s Fifty Shades of Feminism at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on Saturday.

She discussed the book with British authors Jude Kelly, Shami Chakrabarti and Kate Mosse, who all contributed to the anthology. The session’s theme of what it means to be a woman in contemporary society drew a full house of 300 or so, mostly feminists.

Jude Kelly; picture by Kieron McCarron

Jude Kelly; picture by Kieron McCarron

Baroness, politician and broadcaster, Joan Bakewell wrote that feminism is “the most fundamental shift in human consciousness since Darwin’s natural selection.” Natasha read the quote then posed the question to the panel, “What does feminism mean to you?”

Artistic director of London’s Southbank Centre, Jude Kelly, said she believed feminism was “loving the ability of women being equal to men.” Feminism is about gender equality, functioning as a reality: “equal economically, allowed to talk about issues of procreation, and free from all areas of oppression and violence based on any gender discrimination,” she said.

Author Kate Mosse said she regards the F word as “fairness. For me feminism is also about liberating men from roles of manliness, things they don’t want to do either.”

Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse

Shami Chakrabarti, the Oxford academic and author, said she believed that in order for feminism to have credence and status, there needed to be a “global solidarity for men and women to shift it.”

Jude later pointed out that generally, “when men support women, the impact is phenomenal.”

Body ownership was also a pertinent topic within the discussion. “Every community where there is oppression, within that there will be a calibration,” said Kate.

You can bet your bottom dollar that the people [at the bottom] of whatever that heap is, will be the women.”

She went on to give examples where the treatment, the perceptions, and management of a woman’s “agenda” exemplifies how “women’s bodies aren’t their own.” 

Women “need to own the word,” said Shami. That is, the F word. Not in the profane sense, but F for feminism.

Shami Chakrabarti; picture by Gurjit Nahal

Shami Chakrabarti; picture by Gurjit Nahal