The Speaker Lineup for This Major Conference Is All Women


When was the last time you attended a conference—or even heard about one—in which all the speakers were female and yet the conference was not about feminism, gender studies or female empowerment? privacy phone booth

I asked myself this very question last week while looking over Bar Ilan University’s all-female speaker lineup for their conference titled Ink, Inc: History, Community and Text. No, this is not a “women’s conference,” nor is it a conference to bolster women’s voices or promote feminism. It’s a literary conference on how the past and present are traversed through writing, and the presenters are Alicia Ostriker, Ilana Kurshan, Erika Meitner, Rachel Kadish and Deborah Lipstadt.

The final decision to include these writers was based on merit, not gender: “I don’t think about them as the best female writers—that’s over and done with,” Ilana Blumberg, the program’s current department head, explained. “Today it seems as if I’m on the receiving end of history; it was easy to come up with a list of five outstanding writers, all of whom happen to be women.”

Ostriker, a prominent American poet, Lilith’s poetry editor and one of the forerunners of American feminist literary criticism, is not surprised. “…we’ve lived through decades in which people of importance were men and it’s okay now for them all to be women,” she said in a phone interview from her home in New York City. “In the 70s, when I began writing, women were just beginning to walk through the door of the dominant culture.”

Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies whose History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier was turned into the acclaimed film Denial, has done much to correct the idea of women as unreliable witnesses throughout history. She will be appearing alongside Kurshan, a Jerusalem-based writer and translator, and Lilith’s books editor, who emigrated from the U.S. several years ago. Her stunning memoir, If All the Seas Were Ink, recently won the Sophie Brody Medal for achievement in Jewish literature. Portions of the book appeared in Lilith’s pages.

Kurshan is thrilled to be part of this lineup. “This is how far feminism has advanced. Look at that! After the fact! Here are writers and they happen to be women.”

JOANNA CHEN on the Lilith Blog.