Getting the word out

The Doing Feminism Festival was raring to go - but hardly anyone turned up.

fem books (photo credit: )
fem books
(photo credit: )
Ernst and Young's book Complete Guide to Special Event Management places marketing and advertising as the two most important elements in planning a successful affair, after determining whether the theme is a good one. The organizers of Tel Aviv's first annual Doing Feminism Festival in Gan Meir in late September had the idea part down: promoting feminism by sponsoring two days of discussion groups to rally support for Israel's feminist organizations, then wrap it up with colorful closing day activities in a pleasant, well-traversed public park. The second part - marketing and advertising - was a letdown. On the surface, everything appeared to be in place. Booths of participating organizations such as Comme il Faut (women buying from women), The Community of Lesbian Feminists (CLEF), One in Nine (cancer awareness), Zochrot, and others were operated by women eager to sign up new members, distribute literature, and offer information. Laminated, legal size black-and-white printouts embossed with Simone de Beauvoir prose and photos of Florence Nightingale and Gloria Steinem were strung between trees and attached to park gates. Feminist factoids such as "Canada was the first country to make pornography illegal, while Israel distributes pornography free of charge on city streets" dotted the park. Itinerary-wise, the festival looked good. A Feminism for Children story corner was decorated with glittery red and blue streamers. Another space was prepared for creating papier mache from old-fashioned magazines. Mats were spread on the grass for a feminism dialogue, and representatives of the Israel Women's Martial Arts Federation were suited up in padded gear for a self-defense demonstration. All was in place - but almost nobody came. Aside from the organizers, the women at the booths, a smattering of friends and several stragglers who happened to cross the park on their way to Friday shopping, attendance was patchy. One hundred people, at most, attended the closing day event. "I came by accident," said Noa, a 37-year-old Tel Avivian. "I was walking through the park and didn't know it was here. I'm not much of a feminist anyway, but I'm curious. It doesn't seem like too many people like me came. That's a shame because bringing awareness to this male-dominated society is important… I did buy a book," she said. During the afternoon, young actresses performed intermittent skits with feminist themes: blindfolded, with arms and legs bound to portray oppression; advertising pressure depicted by standing on a bathroom scale while bearing a peer's castigation for declining cosmetic enhancement; household stereotypes represented by a husband-wife team - the woman frantically attending to chores while her man buries himself in a newspaper. But few people saw them. The children's corner remained barren as the papier mache wilted, the mats gathered debris, and the self-defense team put on a demonstration for an audience of three: one journalist, her husband and small child. Poor attendance notwithstanding, the defense display was impressive, with petite religious women kicking, hitting, and ultimately felling a large aggressor wearing enough protective padding to rival an NFL player. "I was happy with the turnout," said Yaara Cohen, who heads the Feminist House of Tel Aviv (, the event's umbrella and organizing body. Cohen, who formed the Feminist House in February this year, said the festival was a natural outgrowth of the group's efforts that include weekly discussion groups attended by dozens. Overall membership is in the hundreds. "We are based on three cornerstones - education, activism, and culture. Whereas other groups such as rape crisis centers try to solve a distinct problem, we are more involved in consciousness-raising," she explained. Feminist House seminars address issues such as globalization and women; small business and women; sexual harassment in the workplace; and breast health. "We seek to change the negative way women think of themselves, such as 'I am less worthy' or 'I deserve less.' We try to solve this by discussing subjects like sexual harassment. We draw mutual support through discussion when women understand that they're not isolated or alone in their experiences," said Cohen. Tom, a 29-year-old Tel Aviv resident with bright eyes and brimming optimism, who attended the festival to support an organizer friend, promised to help spread the word. "What's good about this event is that it's not grand-standing or coming from a place of negativity, which is what you usually see. Feminists at such events are usually all about what's wrong with society. This is about how we can help each other, which is great," he said. One can only hope that by next year, the organizers will have read and implemented Ernst and Young's text.