The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Cherchez La Femme

Posted by Mel Campbell on May 10, 2010

I’m not sure how many of you know about a new feminist salon called Cherchez La Femme, organised by Karen Pickering. I’m writing this as a hearty encouragement for you to go if you’re in Melbourne. It takes place on the first Tuesday of every month, and is a free-form panel chat and group discussion about feminism in pop culture, current affairs and everyday life.

Last Tuesday’s kick-off event featured The Dawn Chorus‘s own Clem Bastow, “arts tsar” Richard Watts and broadcaster Namila Benson in conversation with Karen Pickering. There was no predetermined agenda: audience members submitted written questions and the panellists drew them out of a hat to direct the discussion. The questions also acted as tickets for the door prizes – a book and a CD.

There was no designated audience Q&A time – instead, roving reporter Kate Boston Smith stood in the crowd with a mic to field contributions from the audience at whatever point people decided they wanted to say something. (Oddly for me, I barely said a word – because I was busy thinking.) And it was a massive audience; the room was absolutely packed.

Pleasingly, there were lots of men there too, proving that feminism isn’t just a women’s project. This is a topic dear to my heart, because a lot of the time, in feminist organisations as well as in the media, I see a conflation between feminism and ‘women’s issues’, as if feminism is good for women but is a nuisance or killjoy for men. I was worried that this event was going to be a Womyn’s Room ghetto, but it was really heartening to look around the packed-out room and see men (hot men!) who’d decided that this was a great way to spend their Tuesday night.

Another reason why I love Cherchez La Femme is that, unlike some other panel events involving women, the focus is authentically on feminism. Although some of its participants have public profiles, it’s not a celebrity circus. And while it’s a hilarious and thought-provoking night out, it doesn’t talk about women’s experiences purely to titillate or entertain. It costs $5 to get in and that money is spent on promoting future salons and providing thankyou drinks for participants.

Cherchez La Femme isn’t trivial, either – it’s deeply invested in talking about the things that matter to its panellists and its audiences. Some of the topics mentioned on Tuesday included whether and for whom wearing the burqa is a freely taken choice, why the advertising industry is obsessed with women’s digestive systems, and how to stay professional in workplace scenarios when your boss shakes your male colleague’s hand but kisses you on the cheek.

I just can’t recommend this event enough. Future salons are going to be themed – next month’s event is devoted to that vexed topic in feminism, raunch culture. It’s at 7pm on Tuesday 1 June at the Fox Hotel (a great pub run by women!), which is at 351 Wellington St (corner Alexandra Pde) Collingwood.


8 Responses to “Cherchez La Femme”

  1. Mortisha said

    Any media available for us non metro types?
    These events sound so interesting but living in a remote area I miss out a lot of what is happening in Australian feminism.

  2. Mel Campbell said

    Hmmm, that’s a good question Mortisha. I know that Karen was thinking about recording the sessions and making a podcast, but I’m not sure the first one was recorded. Perhaps she’ll be able to get it up and running by the next one.

  3. onelastleftthought said

    The first one definitely wasn’t recorded Mel.

    I will have to miss a few so would love if some tech savy feminists contacted Karen on facebook and offered their services!

  4. Karen Pickering said

    mel, thanks so much for the positive feedback! i had such an excellent night and yeah, i reckon the number of sexy [and thoughtful obvs!] men there was a bonus too. i couldn’t get over the good energy in the room. lotta love!

    and mortisha, thanks for your question too. i don’t have any media as such but there is a facebook group you can join:!/group.php?gid=114737478562516&ref=ts

    that i very much hope will host discussions, photos and media from now on. as mel said, i would love to get a salon recorded soon to chuck up on the web so i’ll try and sort that for june 1. meantime, stay tuned…

  5. Kate said

    It was brilliant to set a new space for feminist discussion….hot, wonderfully crowded and ready. What will come from our Fox-filled night. The future is….

    Thank you Karen. Insightful and invigorating…you are a visionary.


  6. Oooh, thanks for posting about this – sounds like a great event!

  7. Aimee said

    Thanks for posting this, I had no idea it was happening and will definitely try to make it on Tuesday. 🙂

  8. […] Said What sarah on Lubna al-Hussein – Legendladywithanattitude on Cherchez La Femmeiorarua on Committing cultural femicideKate on Cherchez La FemmeNic Heath on Committing […]

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