7 things I learned at the All About Women festival


After discovering the Sydney Writers’ Festival and Graphic last year, I’ve been on the lookout for similar events. All About Women, with its feminist bent, sounded right up my alley. Instead of dabbling with a single talk like I did during SWF and Graphic, I opted to jump right in and attend three AAW talks to get a real feel for the event.

Choosing which talks to attend was difficult. There were so many great speakers and topics discussed, but only so much time in the day! After much agonizing, I opted on three very different, but equally engaging events. Here’s what I learned from them:

  1. Motherhood is not the sole factor that defines a woman.
    I already believed this, but it was nice to have it backed up by a woman who’s been there. Margie Orford, a South African journalist and writer, spoke about her career experiences and motherhood in her solo talk, “How to Find Your Vocation.” Orford “abandoned” her three young daughters for a year to study in New York. While she missed her children terribly during this time, she also loved the freedom that being temporarily child-free afforded her. She described the luxury of quiet and thinking about a single topic for days if she wanted to. Orford discovered that she had “disappeared into motherhood,” and that making a choice between career and being a mother was not one she was willing to make.
  2. Always ask yourself, “What would a man do?”
    To her point of society’s insistence that women either be intellectual or be a mother, Orford posited the above question. Fathers are rarely asked to make a choice between career and home. It’s assumed that they have a wife who will pick up the domestic slack, leaving them free to pursue their ambitions. Why can’t women have the same? Orford was lucky to have extended family were happy to care for her daughters during her year of study. This may not be feasible for everyone, but we should all be more supportive of women pursuing their goals and help in any way possible.
  3. The kids are all right.
    “But what about her daughters?!” you may be asking. Yes, Orford missed an entire year of their lives, but also she gave them an excellent example of courage and ambition. And their year of “abandonment” was a learning experience for the girls as well. One of Orford’s daughters later told her that during that year she learned that if anything did happen to her mom, she would be OK. There were many other people in her life who loved her and her sisters and would take care of them. That’s not a terrible thing for a kid to figure out.
  4. Everything we think we know about health is (probably) wrong.
    Dr Michael Mosley, creator of the 5:2 diet, started his “How to be Healthy” talk by dispelling some conventional diet and health wisdom. Most shocking to me: in the long run, gradual weight loss is no better than loosing the pounds quickly. Turns out people are just as likely to gain back the weight regardless of the weight loss strategy used. Not very encouraging, but good to know.
  5. “Willpower is overrated.”
    This advice may not be for everyone, but Mosley’s opinion resonated with me. Like many of us, he too is a chocoholic. But instead of buying sweets and relying on willpower to say no, he prefers to not keep them in the house at all. I’m usually good about moderating my unhealthy snack intake, but more often than not if it’s there I’ll eat it. Time to clean out the pantry and stock up on better snack options.
  6. The true crime genre doesn’t have to be exploitative.
    As a true crime buff, I’ve often grappled with my love of the genre. Am I exploiting these (often) women victims by delving into the details of the crimes committed against them? While a lot of the genre and news reporting is unnecessarily graphic, it doesn’t have to be. In the “True Crime vs Real Crime” panel, author Jennifer Clement spoke about giving her characters dignity by not graphically describing the violence they experience. Professor Kerry Carrington expanded on this idea by speaking about her desire to “resurrect the dignity” of the real life victims she writes about, many of whom are maligned by misogynistic press coverage.
  7. True crime may function as a catharsis for women.
    Many women in my life love true crime, but I’ve never been able to pinpoint exactly why. I’ve always been a little perplexed as to why I love the genre so much myself. Margie Orford offered her take on the question, suggesting that it gives women readers a chance to be on the side of justice. By seeing the story through an investigators eyes, the audience is able to sit in a place of agency. We may identify with the victim, but we also want to vicariously be in a position of power that allows us to get retribution for those wronged. Since this is all too rare in real life, it may be a good thing to occasionally indulge in a Law & Order marathon.

Naturally, I couldn’t pass up the Books Kinokuniya pop up, filled with books by festival speakers and a few feminist mainstays. There were so many that I wanted to bring home, but given the length of my to-read list I opted for just two: Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter and Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. Or course, after listening to these three talks, I want to read each speakers’ work as well. Good thing you can never have too many books!

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