WOW. Such Festival. So Feminism. Many Inspiration

TL:DR = I went to WOW, spoke about feminist porn, met Kathy Lette and realized that I need to get out of the house more because YOU. ARE. AWESOME.

This weekend I attended the Women of the World (WOW) Festival in Brisbane. I was invited to be a speaker on the “Let’s Talk About Sex” panel on the 20th June and I also got to attend several sessions and an opening night party. It was a fabulous experience so I thought I’d do a small post about it all.

My lovely friend Dr. Anne-Frances Watson has done a lot of research into young people, sex and porn. She was asked to attend and suggested me as a possible panelist with her. I was honoured to be asked but I will admit I was a bit frightened at the idea of appearing at such a high visibility public event in Australia. I like to keep a relatively low profile here for safety and other reasons. But I also liked the idea of being able to talk about feminist porn at a broader feminism conference, not just one that was solely focused on sex or porn. So I said yes.

On Friday afternoon I appeared on ABC radio with fellow panelist Krissy Kneen to talk about sex (pic by @annieb25). That was a bit of fun and I could have raved on for ages. I then attended a session featuring short speeches from women. Aside from Anne’s great talk about how she went from washing dishes to a PhD, I really enjoyed Hannah Pool’s discussion of the politics of afro hair.

And then we were all blown away by Year 11 student Lily Brinble-Bayles speech on being “Just Another Up-Town Black.” With a quiet voice, Lili detailed a difficult life history of abuse, family breakup, dislocation and bad experiences at school. It was hard to listen to at times and you could have heard a pin drop in that room, although there were some tears as well. The whole thing felt almost felt like a performance piece, it was so intense. And then the we all erupted into applause when Lili said she’d got her first A in maths and proclaimed herself a strong, powerful Aboriginal woman who was moving beyond her past.


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I wanted to write about Lili because she reminded me of the importance of hearing alternative voices. It was very cool that this major conference gave time to a young woman to tell her own story and it was very important to listen, even if it was uncomfortable at times.


After that I caught the end of a panel on the erasure of women from history, with some great comments by authors Dale Spender and Jane Caro. There was plenty of discussion about the way that female authors are sidelined and the way that “women’s books” aren’t seen as being as worthy as proper literature. Wish I could have seen the whole thing.

And then I was lucky enough to attend the opening night party which saw all of the speakers gathered into one room for drinks and discussion. Honestly, it was damned thrilling to be surrounded by so many amazing accomplished women. And also, free drinks, so it was pretty much the best thing, ever. I was honoured to meet author Kathy Lette, who wrote Puberty Blues and many other novels. I confessed to Kathy that I wasn’t allowed to read Puberty Blues when I was a kid because it was too rude, though I did see the film later and was pretty traumatized by that scene in the panel van. We had a great discussion about sex and porn and I was mostly just starstruck and grinning like an idiot.


So, things got a little alcoholic for me after that and I missed a very important drag queen performance, like you do, though I had some great chats in the meantime. Me and Anne ended up at a bar where Jon Snow was playing guitar so that was quite the evening out.

The epic hangover meant I missed some sessions in the morning but at least I made it to my own panel, “Let’s Talk About Sex”. Along with Anne and Krissy I got to meet Jocelyn Klug who is a sexologist and therapist. We were all supposed to give short five minute introductory talks but fuck that, we all wanted time to exhibit so the speeches took up most of our allotted hour. Krissy read a very sexy excerpt from her latest novel which saw some audience members looking rather, erm, squirmy. Jocelyn gave us statistics from the Australian Study of Sex and Relationships. Anne talked about how young people deal with sex and porn and revealed how difficult it was to get schools to agree to interviews. No public schools would let her in because she wanted to ask teens about masturbation (I can’t really express the amount of eye rolling that deserves).

I talked about how I got into porn and then did my best to summarize the idea of feminist porn in 25 words or less. I think I was up there for 11 minutes. Ah well. I also put up some distracting stills from some of my films, since I felt I couldn’t really get away with showing porn at the session. Because it was a mainstream-y feminist conference, I half expected there to be an anti-porn sentiment, especially given Pandora Blake’s experience of her WOW session in London. But it was mostly positive. There was one commenter who said her husband had left her due to his porn “addiction”; a sad story but, as Jocelyn pointed out, there is no evidence for the addiction model for porn or sex, even though compulsive behaviour may become an issue for some.

All up it was a good session and I got some great feedback.

Later in the afternoon I was part of the “speed mentoring” session. The idea behind this is that you speak with total strangers for 15 minutes at a time, they tell you about some issue or problem they want help with and you try and assist them to come to a solution. I was kind of terrified that I’d volunteered to be a mentor, partly because I’m an introvert who usually works alone in an office wearing pyjamas, and partly because what can your average self-employed feminist pornographer offer in the way of practical advice?

All of that didn’t matter; it was amazing! I spoke to four different women, each with very different issues and I did my best to just listen, ask questions and offer ideas when asked. Hopefully they found it to be a positive discussion. What I do know is that I found the experience to be rather profound. It was just wonderful to sit and hear the experiences of other women who were so different to me, living very different lives. It reminded me that I’ve been living in a bit of a bubble; I have my network of sex-positive people and those who know what I do but I’m actually isolated in a lot of ways. So I greatly valued hearing some different realities. And to simply sit and listen is such a useful experience, we need to do it far more often.

The other thing I did my best to do was be positive to these women. They were all intelligent, passionate, interesting and earnest but like everyone, uncertainty and self-doubt are always there. I just told them they were fantastic, because they were. There’s a great film called “Validation” and the session reminded me of that a little bit.

The funny thing is, I think the speed mentoring was actually the most important thing of the weekend for me. I felt empowered by it, it made me smile. And I’m wondering if I should finally front up to the local “Women In Business” group and get involved so I can have more of these positive experiences. Then again, it’s a small, fairly religious town, they’ll just lynch me.

Unfortunately I didn’t attend the Sunday sessions because I had to do a previously-planned 50km charity bike ride for MS research. So I missed the Kathy Lette and Jane Turner comedy session that I was super keen to see. Still, even two days at WOW was a worthwhile experience. I’m thinking I need to drag myself out of the house more often to attend these kinds of things, just so I remember how many different and amazing people there are in the world.

Thanks to the WOW organizers for inviting me!