Creative Womxn: The X Conference

So it turns out I accidentally went on a blogging hiatus. Oops. And I only realised this because Facebook's On This Day reminded me that my last post was a YEAR ago. Thanks, jerk. Lucky for me, I get to come back with a bang, because last weekend I attended the best thing ever: Between 10 and 5's X Conference for creative women

Every August I'm on alert for awful, stupid, off-key Women's Month stuff. It seems like an increasing number of brands feel compelled to insert themselves into conversations about social issues, without taking the time to ask if they should, and without putting real effort or research into what they're putting out there. Telkom almost won the Women's Month Brand Fail gold this year, but the clever kids at Brutal Fruit managed to snatch it right out from under them.  

I digress. The point is that I am so primed for idiocy at this time of year that when a truly remarkable thing came along, it knocked me off my feet a little bit. Cue the X Conference.

Organised by local creative content wizards Between 10 and 5, the conference presented a powerful lineup of speakers across the full spectrum of South Africa's creative industry. It took place at Laerskool Jan Celliers in Greenside East, which initially seemed like an odd choice, but turned out to be a really lovely, casual, intimate space. The food and drinks were plentiful and delicious, and there was chocolate.

Photo by Zanele Muholi (!!!)

Photo by Zanele Muholi (!!!)

As for the talks themselves, they were brilliant. Nobody used the phrase "girl power" or said "we're all girls here!". Nobody minced their words or diminished their own accomplishments. These women were smart, direct, fiercely witty, and all about the work. Goosebumps.

If I covered everything I loved about this thing we'd be here all day, so here are my three favourite messages.

It seems like a common theme in the creative world that it's not okay to toot your own horn. If you do talk about your own successes, it must be immediately followed by "oh but I had such a great team and the client was lovely and everyone was so supportive". In fact, the only time I remember ever hearing a creative get on stage at a conference and go "yup, I'm awesome at my job", it was Stefan Flippin' Sagmeister. 

I feel like this attitude goes double for creative women, because apart from the usual industry limitations, we are socialised as women to downplay our own achievements. It was so empowering and refreshing to be in a room full of women going "damn right I'm great at what I do!"

It feels like I keep learning and re-learning this lesson - I've actually written about it before - but here it is. As a graphic design graduate back in the day, I was really wrapped up in getting a job at a good agency and working my way up the advertising ladder, as it that was the only right way to have a creative career. It's only now that I realise all the creative people I admire most don't limit themselves like that! They embrace failure and attack opportunities and do things that scare them, and I want to do that too.

If you've existed as a woman in the world for more than 30 seconds, chances are you've been accused of being overly sensitive and emotional. Even in the creative industry, a space that is arguably much more touchy-feely than a lot of other fields, it feels like most women are making a conscious effort to tone police ourselves so we can come across as more rational and level headed. At the X Conference, that all went out the window, and it was amazing to see the full spectrum of emotion - rage, sorrow, love, joy, pride, fear - acknowledged and celebrated as a valid and vital part of the creative process.

If you're kicking yourself for missing this event, the good news is that you can binge read the Creative Women tag on Between 10 and 5 to numb your pain.

I have been to a few of these industry events over the years, and I've realised that when I take extensive notes, I almost never look at them again. When a speaker does say something that resonates with me deeply, it will stick, notes or not. In place of taking notes, I usually doodle while I listen. This time around, I drew mini portraits of all the speakers - you can see them on my Instagram.