5 things I learnt at All About Women

I spent Sunday, one of the few glorious autumn days we’ve had this year, holed up inside this old place with several thousand other ladies (and around 15 men) talking about all things women. And it was brilliant. I was actually live tweeting the event for Ideas at the House, so was lucky enough to see most of the talks. I was so impressed by the range of ideas presented,  the engaging way the speaker’s presented their talks and just by how many smart, cool and switched-on ladies were in attendance. I wanted to be friends with all of them! Across the board, it was a really excellent event. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Here are some things I learnt during the day.

1. Stop Trying To Be Happy All The Time

This was alluded to in quite a few talks, particularly Jen Senior‘s ‘All Joy No Fun’ presentation about modern parenting and the ‘How To Break Up With A Friend’ panel with Clementine Ford and Jane Caro. The gist was that happiness is an emotion not a permanent state of being and as such comes in and out of our lives, like all other emotions.

Similarly, feelings of grief, loss and sadness should be accepted as a part of human experience and not as a sign of failure.  And ok, this might seem obvious to you more well-adjusted folks, but it felt kind of revelatory to me. I don’t think I totally grasp the concept yet; it feels passive just waiting for happiness to come to you, but on the other hand, of course there is now way we can be happy 100% of the time – we need sadness to understand happiness, work to enjoy weekends and boredom to experience excitement.

Still, I am at a loss as to what we’re supposed to aim for if not happiness. For Jen Senior, successful parenting is not about raising happy kids, it’s about raising ethical and productive kids and letting happiness come naturally. Maybe the same applies to adults? If we try to live morally and with purpose, happiness will follow, along with sadness, love, pain and everything in between. Because that’s what it means to be a person.

2. There Are A Lot Of Myths Surrounding Female Sexuality

One of the busiest sessions was Daniel Bergner‘s “What Women Want: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire”. In the space of an hour, Bergner set about debunking most of the widely held beliefs about female sexuality and desire, including: that women have a weak libido, that women’s sexual enjoyment must come with intimacy and that hormones have the greatest influence on female desire.  Basically it turns out I know almost nothing about my own sex drive. I think I need to read Bergner’s book.


3. Mona Eltahawy is Bad Ass

Mona Eltahawy‘s speech was a highlight for me. What an incredible woman, journalist and feminist. Upon arriving in Cairo to protest during Egypt’s revolution, Eltahawy was attacked by riot police – she was sexually assaulted on the street and both her arms were broken. Despite these horrific turn of events, she continues to be a brave and vocal advocate against misogyny in the Arab world.  Her talk centered around the need for Arab women to take the revolution from the streets to the home. Completely compelling.


4. Women Can Break Each Other’s Hearts

Female friendships are precious things. And when they go wrong, they really fuck with you. The ‘How To Break Up With A Friend’ session was like group therapy. People actually turned up to the event because they were trying to break up with a friend or getting over a friendship break up – they came looking for real tangible advice.  Interestingly, a lot of the room was split as to whether you should be honest with a friend and try for a clean break or whether you should avoid confrontation and let each other drift apart. It’s obviously a super interesting area that I would love to see some social science research around – if anyone knows of any, let me know!


5. The Somali Government Has More Female Cabinet Ministers Than Australia

They have 2 female ministers out of 25 . We have 1 out of 20. :s


The other highlight, of course, was Lucy Siegle‘s presentation on the destructive nature of fast fashion. It was particularly heartening to see how many young fashionistas were in attendance. Ch-ch-changes.


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