The last time I went to an all women’s event, I remember feeling I didn’t quite fit in. The event celebrated women in educational leadership, the hurdles they had had to jump to get to where they stood now and paths they were forging for future generations.
However, sitting in the room I felt an unsettledness about it all. I should be grateful, I thought. I was seated besides the Public Speaking Coordinator from a prestigious Eastern Suburbs grammar school, and across from a Boarding House Matron – so, great networking opportunities! But apart from the fact that most of the women around me came from elite colleges and academies, I soon realised that I was one of four Women of Colour in the room. In fact, there were more men in the room than anyone who remotely resembled me and most of the students I taught, back in Mount Druitt.
It’s 2020 and women’s events continue to have a sense of monotony attached to them: one- dimensional, dominated by middle-aged Karens and harping year-in and year-out on the same themes: self-love, self-empowerment and self-worth. All excellent conversations to have of course, if you need a morale boost, but ones that leave more difficult conversations on the wayside.
When my best friend, Rachel Saravanamuthu, Senior Solicitor at Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, described an event she’d been to in Naarm that was for women of colour by women of colour, I was incredulous.
‘What did the white women say?’ I asked.
‘Nothing, they weren’t invited,’ she replied, matter-of-factly.
Challenge accepted, I thought. If there was ever to be an event like this in Sydney, I was going to gather all my frustration, hurt and the best team of WoC I could find and we would put our energy into creating a radical event for a radical cause. As a brown woman, there is nothing worse than attending an IWD event only to be spoken for and spoken over. We want to see changes to this systemic imbalance within our lifetimes.
Black, Indigenous and Womxn of Colour need more than just self-love and self-empowerment conversations. Before we can even get to these discussions, acknowledging how white patriarchy has inflicted individual and collective wounds needs addressing, and these are not conversations that can be had with white folk in the room.
Exclusive spaces and events like last Saturday’s International Womxn’s Day: we are the mainstream, are needed for the collective and individual healing of BIWoC. Against the societal gaslighting and the ongoing denial of structural forces against us, the event allowed for the process of recovery to begin in order to re-energise and reclaim what is rightfully ours.
And the sad reality is just that: that these bold, unapologetic conversations cannot be had in the presence of white fragility as they are often derailed by white guilt or white women’s tears. This is why we are the mainstream’s first event was exclusive and rejected this year’s IWD hashtag #eachforequal. Hosting the event the weekend before International Women’s Day was a strategic move. We didn’t want it to fall on the same day and compete with ‘mainstream’ events, but also it was in resistance and defiance of an otherwise neoliberal commodified day to celebrate ‘all women’, effectively erasing our experiences.
Instead of ‘celebrating’ what it means to be a woman on an international day, we spent the day in heavy conversations, unpacking how our experiences are different to those of white women. How we as industry experts, leaders and emerging voices are treated differently to our white counterparts. Instead of waiting to be invited to share ideas on panels that have been exclusively held by white women and often moderated by white cis males, we decided to do our own thing. Instead of inviting white allies to share the space with us, we asked them to ‘show up’ by showing their support and solidarity through financial assistance.
I hear someone yelling, ‘reverse racism’ in the back, and this makes me happy. The reality is, every women’s day event I’ve ever been to has been implicitly racist, ableist, TERFy and elitist by ignoring the issues of Women of Colour, First Nations women, disabled women, those who are on temporary visas or new settlers, and those who are of non-binary genders. We deemed it important to consider all of these factors and for the event to be intergenerational, especially in an age when societal demands often pit younger women and older women against each other.
What of the hashtag, #eachforequal? There was a collective eye-roll as we joked about whether #scottyfrommarketing had come up with it. Prior to European invasion, many cultures were collectivist and matriarchal. So, while the hashtag rolls off the tongue, the theme itself centres on individualism and capitalistic frameworks that have very little to do with our cultures and communities. Instead, there was discussion about equal pay and equity, and unanimous agreement that authentic solidarity between marginalised groups is key for our emancipation. we are the mainstream aims to lead by example by centring those from First Nations, Black and the most marginalised within our own communities, whether it be through caste, class, ability, religion, sexuality or gender distinction.
We have chosen to boldly confront systemic oppression and injustice. Civil rights movements are rarely considered polite, palatable or peaceful if you are on the side of the oppressor. That is why we are the mainstream refuses to conform and instead will continue to elevate and celebrate Black, Indigenous, Womxn of Colour and non-binary People of Colour without seeking permission or apologising.