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by Nathan Bernfield

Far away from the rocks under the Harbour Bridge, young and old, women and men, even a dog, Uber’d their way to a cold Camperdown to the University of Sydney Business School. There they sat down in the big blue auditorium, to listen to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author, Susan Faludi. Her 1991 ‘Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women’ landed her on every feminist bookshelf and gender studies reader. Her new book, In the Darkroom (2016), was the focus of tonight’s discussion; hosted by our own Anna Hush, a philosophy honours student, young writer and anti-domestic violence activist.

Susan’s prolific works cover a wide range of thought: from feminism, to capitalism, neo-liberalism, terrorism, and finally Trump-ism. Susan describes feminism as means for people to find their own voice. Tonight’s discussion began with how her own feminism began: her father.

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Her father represented that ‘ur-patriotic’ 1950s’ model of fatherhood; autocratic, controlling and bullying. After her mother filed for divorce and after the restraining order, domestic violence abuse, police arrest (and easy get out of jail free card since the bail was only $200), Susan subsequently ended that relationship and stopped talking to her father. Almost a quarter of a century later, in 2004, Susan received an email from her father saying he decided to stop being that “macho aggressive man he never was on the inside”, that he was in Thailand, and that he was getting a gender-reassignment. He was now she. And Steven was now Stephanie. Stephanie asked Susan if she’d write her story… which began her journey into The Darkroom.

For Susan, this affirmed her belief that: “gender is on a spectrum and a lot more interesting, and complicated, than what society gives us”. Dramatic change has begun to happen in the last 3-4 years and the mainstream are becoming more aware of trans people. "We are nearing a point where it might be possible to complicate the trans narrative", says Susan. “As Jennifer Boylan says”, Susan goes on, “when you’ve met one trans person, you’ve met one trans person”.

In the Darkroom (2016) arrived on our bookshelves in a year “which was in many ways a culmination of the historical gender drama that had been going for at least two decades”. The rise of the far right, geared by Trump, re-birthed a highly vocal group of angry white males who named Hillary the “anti-Christ” and embraced a rhetoric that was aimed at pushing women back. “It’s depressing”, says Susan, to have to talk about the gender issue after twenty years. “Consumerist and corporate feminism, feminism for the 1%, such as Beyonce, Katy Perry and Dove soap ads, burned away over night on November 8” and issues about working class women resurfaced or came back into focus.

When it was time for questions, a highly nimble older woman rose to the microphone stand and said humbly: “Hi, I’m Eva Cox and I’m a well-known 70s feminist and delighted to meet you”. The audience looked surprised. Of course, we all know who you are Eva, no need to introduce yourself. Eva made more of a statement than asked a question: “When you look at what’s going in other countries, such as Europe and around the world, the problem of economics seems important talk about… My question to you is: We talk a lot about resistance, we talk a lot about change but how do we talk about revolution? We need to start talking about what a good society would look like. Because resistance is when we accept the patriarchy, revolution is when we upend it and do something quite different!” followed by a large applause. Susan agreed wholeheartedly.

Next was a young woman who said she was a victim of rape and sexual abuse. She asked if “[she] could add something to the conversation if [she] can only talk from personal experience and not as an academic”. Susan thanked her for bravely telling us her story. “Of course, we need both”, says Susan, “people can relate to personal experience in their own way… feminism, after all, is about finding your own voice.”

The night ended with a lot of fruitful thought to reflect on. For me, what stood out was the line: “Men and women would rather have a false sense of power than embrace freedom.”

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