By Alana Kerr
and Jen Crothers
SYDNEY — "go girl!", the Sydney Women's Festival held in the Domain on March 7, was attended by around 7000 people. Those who believed the hype that the festival was to be the new face of the feminist movement would have had a surprise: go girl! made it clear that being a woman does not equate to being a feminist.
The SWF's program stated that go girl! is "Australia's way of celebrating International Women's Day with a festival that is as vibrant, dynamic and diverse as our culture. go girl! reinforces the achievements of women in a positive way. By recognising and rejoicing in the diversity of women's lives, go girl! creates a meaningful and accessible celebration for the whole community."
The festival had music and stalls (some informational and others commercial) on health and lifestyle, business and education, careers, the internet, reading and others. There were speakers and workshops on a range of issues. Most stalls were from "women-owned and -run" businesses, which sold everything from lingerie to real estate.
The go girl! stall sold "go girl! singlets, shorts, caps and 'sleeping sets' (pyjamas)". Stalls featuring useful information about women's working conditions and health were overwhelmed by stalls pushing people to buy more products to "celebrate" being a woman.
The official show bag ($3) included a health and beauty magazine with 10 dieting tips and advice on how to make your breasts look bigger, a nailfile, Business class: the magazine that works for women, a toothbrush, foot lotion, a soup sample, real estate advice, information on pap smears, two condoms, go girl! post-it notes and information about moisturisers.
Sponsors included the Australia Council for the Arts, radio 2DAY FM, First National Real Estate, the Cancer Council and the "We don't want to change the way you look, we want to change the way you feel about the way you look" Body Shop, which provided free facials.
The festival was riddled with contradictions. Festival organisers had no qualms about selling their go girl! show bag with tips on dieting alongside a stall with information about eating disorders amongst women. In the health and lifestyle marquee, well-known author and doctor Sandra Cabot discussed her liver-cleansing diet, yet one of the most fundamental health issues for women, abortion access, didn't rate a mention all day. Seemingly "controversial" issues were excluded or pushed to the background.
The Green Left Weekly and International Women's Day Collective stalls were an activist oasis in a desert of apolitical consumerism. Further, go girl! actively discouraged progressive political activity: sellers of Green Left were asked not to hand out material and NSW Greens activists were forcibly removed from the Domain for handing out information. The organisers and their hired security firm said the Greens hadn't paid for a stall.
The SWF, which promotes itself as Sydney's "premier" women's event, will probably continue to receive a lot of slick media coverage. However, that does not make it the new face of the feminist movement.