Feminism-themed salon moves beyond labels to create a safe space for sharing ideas

By Bliss Bowen

Filmmaker Sarah Moshman is changing the conversation about feminism by helping people talk about it constructively

Filmmaker Sarah Moshman is changing the conversation about feminism by helping people talk about it constructively

During the course of this historically uncivilized election season, Americans have started thorny national conversations about sexism, misogyny and rape culture, many of them triggered by statements or actions made by our president-elect. But while it’s valuable that those conversations have begun, it’s equally important to note that they haven’t progressed very far — perhaps because so many people still struggle with the concept of feminism. The word itself can land in polite conversation like a bomb.

“A lot of people carry a lot of negative weight around the word ‘feminism,’” acknowledges filmmaker Sarah Moshman. “I certainly own that label loud and proud, but it’s a very polarizing word, which is insane when you think about it because it means equality.”

Moshman was editing her 2014 documentary “The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things” (empowermentproject.com) when she helped organize an event in March 2013 called “The F-Word.” Initially conceived as a safe, community-creating space where women could share and hear relevant and empowering stories, it is now a series with two to three events a year open to men as well as women. The whole enterprise remains low-key; it doesn’t yet have its own website or even a Facebook page. Moshman steers the series with comedian/filmmaker Ava Bogle and GirlTalkHQ.com creator Asha Dahya; they co-host their ninth gathering next Wednesday.

“To me it all kind of went together,” Moshman says of the “transformative” experience of making her documentary and launching “The F-Word.” “It really became clear to me that bringing people together to have a conversation is something we’re really lacking today, especially with technology. Everything’s at our fingertips. You can watch a movie in the comfort of your home; you don’t even have to go to the theater anymore, which is too bad. It feels like we’re missing this in-person element.”

“The F-Word” developed out of a desire to facilitate supportive, face-to-face connections between and about women. Four to five speakers deliver 10-minute remarks that generally address feminism’s intersections with economic, racial and cultural issues; past topics have included domestic and sexual violence, pornography, general empowerment, and women in politics. Even if they never utter the dreaded “F-Word,” it’s understood that that’s the overarching theme. According to Moshman, the substance of their message is more important than their résumé.

“We weren’t necessarily looking for women to speak at the event who were professional speakers or TED speakers,” she explains. “It was, Who’s got a great story to share? Who’s willing to be vulnerable and get up there? We wanted women who could be accessible to the audience. … We’ve had some incredible male speakers too, and that’s yielded a much more co-ed audience. It’s certainly not 50/50, but maybe 80/20. We’re encouraging men to join the conversation. Sincerely, if you want to talk about equality, it’s not fair to not include both sides.”

Wednesday’s speakers include Hollywood Reporter correspondent Jarrett Hill, best known for breaking the Melania Trump plagiarism story (identifying how her RNC speech lifted phrases from an earlier Michelle Obama speech); Ravneet Vohra, founder of “intersectional feminist” magazine Wear Your Voice; Sonya Passi, CEO of Venice-based nonprofit FreeFrom, which helps survivors of domestic violence attain financial independence; and Kit Steinkellner, a playwright and creative writing teacher. Bogle and musician/actress Christine Castanon will briefly perform.

It’s all but certain that conversations that night will be dominated by last month’s election results, the forthcoming Electoral College vote, the post-election wave of racial and sexual assaults across the country, and perhaps Jane Fonda’s recent call to “redefine masculinity so that it’s not toxic.” Moshman anticipates more “political undertone” than usual.

“I think a lot of women, especially, have been really fired up in the last few weeks, because we were shocked by the [election’s] outcome, perhaps to a fault,” she says. “I hope more women run for political office. I hope these conversations continue on a more passionate scale, because we know what’s at stake. We know what happens when we get lazy or turn our backs for a second and don’t fight as hard as we could.”

Feminism has become a catchy meme banner, like a T-shirt identity donned by many people who aren’t fully familiar with the movement’s history or the individuals who died fighting for women’s right to vote. That lack of understanding feeds the difficulty in moving those national conversations forward. Moshman talks about honoring that past when asked how she defines feminism in 2016.

“I’m a filmmaker and I try to shine light on stories of inspiring, empowering women,” she says. “To me, feminism is about honoring the women who came before us by working toward a more equal future for future generations. To me, it’s about keeping that torch going. … We all hopefully want equality for all genders and races. Don’t we all want safety and health and love and equal opportunities?”

“The F-Word” happens from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at General Assembly, 1520 2nd St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. For more information or to purchase tickets, search “The F-Word” at eventbrite.com.