Monica Lewinsky and Zadie Smith to headline new feminist ideas festival in Australia

By: Karl Schoendorfer

Photo: AFP

Monica Lewinsky will embark on her first ever speaking tour of Australia and Zadie Smith will return for the first time in nearly two decades to headline a new feminist ideas festival. Hosted by Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre in November, the Broadside festival will feature more than 30 high-profile local and international guests, including Helen Garner, Mona Eltahawy, Ariel Levy, Courtney Barnett and Aileen Moreton-Robinson.

Lewinsky will appear in conversation to discuss her experience of online harassment culture and her activism around it. In August, the public speaker and contributing editor to Vanity Fair was announced as a producer on a forthcoming series of American Crime Story about her affair with then-US president Bill Clinton while she was a White House intern.

“There’s no better person placed in our culture to discuss online bullying and harassment than Monica Lewinsky,” Broadside director Tam Zimet told Guardian Australia.

“Her story has been co-opted and manipulated and used for personal and political gain for purposes that have nothing to do with her for two decades. And it’s taken this long for the culture to catch up. She has been talking about this for two decades and finally she’s in control of her narrative, and finally we all understand what that means.”

Zadie Smith will appear in conversation with New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino, speaking broadly about her life and writing. She is also scheduled to speak at the Sydney Opera House at an event yet to be announced.

The festival will also feature Helen Garner discussing her forthcoming book based on her diaries, Yellow Notebook. Author of Thick, Tressie McMillan Cottom, will appear alongside Call Your Girlfriend podcast host Aminatou Sow to speak about black feminism.

Zimet said the festival had its roots in her conviction that “if we’re not outraged, then we’re not paying attention”.

“What do we do? Well, what feminists do is we organise and we come together,” she said.

The programming draws directly from contemporary political issues, including panels on feminism and capitalism, “decolonising” feminism, speaking up for one’s rights, and negotiating public space as a woman.

Speakers on these panels include pioneering Indigenous Australian feminist Aileen Moreton-Robinson, and writers and activists Fatima Bhutto, Ruby Hamad, Nayuka Gorrie, Michelle Law, Gala Vanting and Jax Jacki Brown.

“These are the issues being discussed between women and gender nonconforming people all around the country, all the time,” Zimet said. “We wanted to expose as many people as possible to it.”

There will also be a “teen day” in which public high school students will attend a free day of talks, workshops, panels and discussion at the Wheeler Centre, focused on “creating positive action and change”.

Zimet, who worked for three years as a programmer at the Sydney writers’ festival, said Melbourne was the obvious place to host a feminist ideas festival.

“We know Melbourne audiences come out for smart feminist programming,” she said.

“There are so many feminist organisations running incredible events right across arts and culture and activism. But the proliferation of these festivals and organisations shows there’s enthusiasm for this, not that there is too much.”

She namechecks some of Melbourne’s homegrown feminist outfits, including the Feminist writers’ festival, Fitzroy High School’s feminist collective Your Voice, the Victorian Women’s Trust, the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre and the Stella prize as evidence of the city’s thriving feminist cultural activity.

“We wanted to create a program that’s celebratory but also one with tricky and nuanced conversations.”

There will also be a Town Hall-based festival bar – named Club Skunk, a nod to the lesbian bar in the teen movie Ten Things I Hate About You – “a place to congregate, have a martini and plan the utter obliteration of the patriarchy,” Zimet said.

Broadside will run at Town Hall, Melbourne, on 9 and 10 November. Monica Lewinsky, Mona Eltahawy and Tressie McMillan Cottom will also appear in Sydney as part of Unthinkable, a series by the University of New South Wales Centre for Ideas.


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