Today I went to the Marxism 2011 Conference at Melbourne Uni. I’ve been jokingly calling it my ‘Marxist experience’, as if for this time – and this time only – I will allow myself to be open to Marxist and socialist ideas. Which is very silly because once I was actually there I found myself repeatedly thinking, ‘this shit is awesome’. Now, to be fair, I was only able to go to one of the sessions, which was titled “Raunch culture and sexism in sport – the face of women’s oppression today”. Not only was it refreshing to hear there are people as angry about how the AFL treats women as I am, but it reminded me that as a feminist and an agent for change, I need to be open to new ways of thinking and seeing the world. Women don’t suffer oppression just because they’re women but because they are women AND a certain race AND from a certain socio-economic background.
But, back to the forum. Firstly, loved the title. Secondly, loved the line up: Monica Dux (co-author of The Great Feminist Denial) and Dr. Cordelia Fine (author of Delusions of Gender) and Allyson Hose from the Socialist Alternative. I highly recommend the books of the first two speakers, so look into it people!
The forum was well attended and, I must add, had an excellent boy to girl ratio, which pleased me immensely. My only gripe would be that it wasn’t until the third speaker, Allyson Hose, that there was an in-depth discussion about the topic. And while she was very passionate and well-researched – speaking at length about the misogynism in AFL and then raunch culture, there was disappointingly no mention of women in sport, as athletes rather than groupies. I am currently involved in organising a women’s leadership forum looking at the same topic and so I was probably expecting nothing less from the speakers than a verbal manual on how to run our forum, so I suppose I should chillax a little. But overall the speakers spoke very well and even had us laugh (gosh, who said feminists were funny?) as well as groan at capitalist patriarchy.
The discussion that precipitated the speakers was excellent. Probably the highlight of the hour and a half. This is because, a) I am very familiar with the work of Fine and Dux already and so didn’t learn anything new from their talks (again, not their fault) and b) the discussion from the audience reminded me of the intersectionality that characterises gender inequality.
For example, one young woman spoke about the classism that still exists in politics and the structures of society.
Another young woman spoke about gender inequality and its interaction with racism.
A young man spoke about women in sport and the discrimination they face because of their gender, race, class etc.
Another young woman, from the ASU (community workers area) spoke about the wage disparity between community workers (predominantly women) and people working in comparable industries (based on training and qualifications etc., which happen to be male dominated). Dux echoed this point, saying that wage disparity is about treating people equally but for women, the issue is one of poverty and the economic disadvantages women experience – primarily into old age.
And lastly, a young woman who works at Sydney University in the psychology department spoke about the ‘Diagnostic manual’ used to diagnose psych disorders. Apparently, in the new volume they will introduce a new disorder: female sexual arousal dysfunction (or something similar). Apparently it is a disorder that pathologises single women, women who are in queer relationships and women who don’t become aroused at the same rate as men as biologically impaired. THIS IS MY SHOCKED FACE!!!! Obviously the pathologising of women’s ‘sexual dysfunction’ as a biological problem rather than one of emotional stress at being overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated. And so when she screamed that we need to take to the streets and DEMAND ORGASMS (and not through the new ‘female viagra’ that coincidentally is being released in time for the new diagnostic manual) we all laughed and applauded loudly. And again I thought, ‘this shit is awesome’.
Throughout the forum, from the speakers and the audience, people who were not straight, middle-class and white, were frequently mentioned. It was so refreshing for me to be around people who are constantly thinking and campaigning for those who are pushed to the fringes of society through no fault of their own. Homosexuals, people who aren’t white, women, women in low status jobs, working class, women who are good at sport.
And this activism, passion and drive to speak for the disenfranchised is coming from people who have the time and money and interest to attend a Marxist conference on their Easter break. Again, this shit is awesome. It was an important reminder that Marxism is a lens through which to view the world, much like feminism. It’s a critical eye on society and, like feminism, has a lot of baggage attached to its name. But its aim is to make people’s lives better through an understanding of class (like feminism’s of gender). Also, this conference shows that Marxism has come to understand that oppression doesn’t come through one form (class OR gender) but through many.
We all need to be exposed to things that aren’t mainstream all the time. Just because something isn’t mainstream – (and once we really start to think about what it is that is mainstream it’s often sexist, racist, homophobic, misogynistic and classist) – it doesn’t mean it’s an unworthy forum for debate but a different platform for change.