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.