Event: Stella—A Prize of One’s Own at The Wheeler Centre.

the wheeler centre stella prize

Last Tuesday the first women’s-only literary prize in Australia—the Stella, after the lesser-known first name of Miles Franklin—was awarded to Carrie Tiffany for her novel Mateship with Birds. On Thursday night, the winner; founding donor, Ellen Koshland, and chairs, Aviva Tuffield and Kerryn Goldsworthy, of the Stella Prize; and panel facilitator Sian Prior met at the Wheeler Centre to discuss the landmark event.

I’m sure most have heard of the dismal representation of female writers being reviewed and writing reviews in major publications, and winning prizes, despite the breakdown of actual books being published by women being pretty even with men. The Stella Prize was born of this with the goal to “put gender on the agenda”, and if the 80% of books by women being shortlisted for the Miles Franklin this year and the accompanying press is any indication, the Stella committee has certainly succeeded in opening up the discourse.

Most of the news media I consume is feminist-, or at least left-, skewed, so everything I’ve read about the Stella has been positive. However, on the panel Tiffany quoted this choice headline from a certain newspaper with this country’s name as its title amidst the news of her win: “Bush Romance Novel Wins Writer’s Prize” [online title differs slightly].

Because all women are capable of writing about is romance, right? Specifically, vampire- and sadomasochistic-romance. But as Prior asserted, if that’s the case, “what’s so wrong with vampire- and sadomasochistic-romance, anyway?”  And romance is a “small subject”, just like all the other “small subjects” apparently only women write about: domestic life, relationships, etc. And on the occasion that a man does write about these topics, they’re looked at through a different “scope” than when a woman tells the story.

stella prize shortlist

While I shamefully haven’t read any of the books on the Stella shortlist (although I did pick up Mateship with Birds and Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts, which I’ve wanted to read since I heard her speak at the Bendigo Writers Festival last year), not all of them subscribe to this “gender of genre” talked about above. Sea Hearts is a fantasy novel, while The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson is speculative fiction. Goldsworthy mentioned that the judges were wary of choosing books that ticked certain boxes; being a genre novel, fact-laden non-ficition, or from an Indigenous woman, for example.

When an audience member asked about Indigenous writers included on the longlist and quotas for them within the Stella prize during question time, Goldsworthy mentioned they didn’t want to “ghettoise” the prize by awarding it to a token Indigenous woman. By using this reasoning for not awarding the Stella to an Indigenous longlistee, doesn’t that just “ghettoise” and “tokenise” the longlist? What’s the point of including them on the longlist at all if they don’t have a chance at the main prize? I noticed a lot of head shaking during Goldsworthy’s answer, including my own, from people presumably on a similar train of thought. Indigenous people are a marginalised group, as are women (despite being more than half of the population and, indeed, about the same number of written word consumers). Born of the need to hear marginalised voices, would the Stella Prize even exist? I hope next year more Indigenous women are selected as contenders, not just for their tokenism.

Related: Bendigo Writers Festival.

Elsewhere: [The Australian] Bush Romance Tale a Stella Achievement.

Event: Melbourne Writers’ Festival—A Long Long Way to Go: Why We Still Need Feminism.

We’re in a post-feminist era. Feminism is dead. Has feminism failed?

From the arguments presented by Sophie Cunningham in her Melbourne Writers’ Festival address, titled after the line in Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” (and the title of a book I thought Cunningham mentioned she’d had/is having published, but upon further inspection, this doesn’t seem to be the case), these post-feminism assertions are null and void.

While Cunningham stated at the beginning, after her introduction by Monica Dux, that she’d be focusing purely on feminism as it relates to Western women, but to keep the big picture in mind, I was disappointed that she kept her key points to the lack of women (or recognition of women) in writing, music, film and the arts in general.

Having said that, though, she made some pertinent points: that in 2009 and 2011, the Miles Franklin Award shortlists were all male; that for a woman in Australia to be paid the same as a man in the same job, she would have to have a PhD to his Bachelor degree; that a 25-year-old woman will earn $1.5 million over the next 40 years, whereas a male will earn $2.4 million (to which Dr. Anne Summers responded, “There’s a $1 million penalty for being a woman in Australia today.”); it’s safer to be a soldier in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo, than to be a woman; women do two thirds of the world’s work for 10% of the pay; that when literary submissions are read blind, the inclusion/choosing of women increases sevenfold. (This is epitomised in The Big Issue’s latest fiction edition, in which six competition pieces were read without names attached, and five [possibly six; it isn’t clear if Nic Low, whose piece Slick appears in the anthology, is male or female] are from women writers.)

To really illustrate the “invisible woman” syndrome in the “writing culture crisis”, and amongst many other industries, Cunningham used an anecdote about a female reporter who attended a Liberal rally organised by Tony Abbott and was taunted by the crowd for daring to question Malcolm Turnbull (I think; don’t quote me on this)*. To escape the abuse that threatened to get physical, she disappeared into the crowd, becoming “invisible”. If only Lara Logan, whom Cunningham spoke about, was able to do this in Tahrir Square.

Cunningham brought up the notion that in terms of women’s equality and feminism, our society is regressing somewhat. This is a contention I agree with. Therefore the “invisibility” of women has become “normalised”.

Aimless Panther writes on Feminaust:

“Yay, Aussie women now make up 12% of board members! Wait… seriously, is 12% something to CELEBRATE?!?!”

My sentiments exactly.

In film, Cunningham talked about the Bechdel test and how the feminist movie of the year, Bridesmaids, makes the cut, whereas Cowboys & Aliens doesn’t. Not to toot my own horn (okay, I’ll toot away!), but has Cunningham been reading The Scarlett Woman?!

She also mentions Pixar’s first film featuring a female protagonist, 2012’s Brave, about a strong, assertive and “brave” (duh!)—hence “ugly”—redhead. My, how far we’ve come!

Where Cunningham saw a sort of “bottleneck” in modern feminism, where white, privileged feminists like myself don’t understand the problems facing feminists of colour, feminists with sexual orientation other than straight, feminists with gender other than cis, and feminists with disabilities, she praised the “grassroots” feminism sprouting in the young feminist community, epitomised by SlutWalk. (SlutWalk has been criticised by non-white, non-middle-class feminists for excluding them. Cunningham defended the protest, but by only speaking about issues that affect the feminists SlutWalk caters to, perhaps she could be seen as contributing to this bottleneck?)

She longs for a fourth wave feminism, and finished the talk with this. Some would say we are in/entering a fourth wave, where sexual liberation and reproductive rights still reign supreme, but there is more of a focus on the needs of different types of feminists, as mentioned above, and “serious”, Third-World feminism, where some view the movement is most needed.

Those who are instigating these grassroots movements; this fourth wave; these feminist blogs; are arguably the 25-year-olds who “don’t get feminism”, as Cunningham asserted. While I don’t wish to demonise her for questioning my, and my peers’, motivations and understanding of the movement we so lovingly work towards, I was thoroughly offended by this comment. If Cunningham, and an elderly audience member who spoke up during question time by reiterating that young people don’t “get” what “real” feminism is all about, took a look around the function room at BMW Edge at Federation Square, they would have realised that the majority of people in attendance were under or around 25. Some of them were men, which signifies that yes, while we do still have “a long long way to go”, there are people on our side.

Furthermore, I remember last year there was a bit of tension in the ranks between second- and third-wave feminists, which has also contributed to the bottleneck Cunningham speaks of.

I think we, as feminists, need to be careful about who we call a “real feminist”. Is she the man-hating “HLL (Hairy Legged Lesbian)” stereotype? The woman who shuns all pain-killers to have a natural, home birth, and shames all those who don’t? The “expert”? The grassroots SlutWalk organisers? According to Cunningham, perhaps it’s not the young, beautiful women who “don’t understand” the real issues of concern for feminism because, well, they’re 25 and still have men drooling at their feet. (I’m paraphrasing here, but this is basically the gist of what I interpreted Cunningham to mean). There’ll be more on this to come throughout the week. In the meantime, what do you think?

*Updated 05/09/11: It was actually Alan Jones, at the Rally of No Confidence in Canberra, who lead the crowd in a verbal barraging of journalist Jacqueline Maley after she asked him if he had been paid to speak. I have added the link to this information below.

Related: Has Feminism Failed?

“Who the Bloody Hell Are We?”: The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

Witch Trial: Burning at the Stake on Charmed.

Bridesmaids Review.

Cowboys VS. Aliens & Indians… Does it Really Matter? They’re All the Same Anyway, According to the New Movie.

Rachel Berry as Feminist.

Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

Melbourne Writers’ Festival: Never, Ever, Again—Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform by Caroline de Costa Book Launch.

Surfing the Third Wave: Second-Wave VS. Third-Wave Feminism on Gossip Girl.

Elsewhere: [ABC’s The Drum] A Prize of One’s Own: The Case for an Aussie Orange.

[Feminaust] Welcome to Monday August 29 2011.

[Sydney Morning Herald] The Fee, Me & Alan Jones: How Question of Money Turned Crowd Nasty.

Image via Melbourne Writers’ Festival.