Pamela Denoon lecture 2016 - Sexual equality: negotiating a modern minefield

Presenter/s: Nelly Thomas

Event type: Public lecture

Event date: Tuesday, 8 March 2016 - 6:30pm

Event venue: Manning Clark Theatre, ANU


In 2016 we know everything there is to know about sex. Sex is available on a screen or through hook-up apps that allow us to find sexual partners. We have school-based sex education – though not yet universal – for young people, Respectful Relationships Programs, and celebrities galore wearing White Ribbons and talking about respect for women. Prime Ministers talk about ‘gender equity’ and yet, Nelly will contend, we risk being a fraud if we don’t start modeling equality and respect. She argues we are telling young people to do one thing but model another. We’re asking them to do as we say and not as we do. Hardly seems fair.

While sex is ubiquitous, and this so-called ‘post-feminist’ generation can do anything they want with whomever they want, very few people are talking about sex with young people in a meaningful way. In this lecture Nelly will argue that young people are craving information and discussion about sex and sexuality but we’re short-changing them. At best we talk about the birds and the bees and what’s above the knees, but very few speak to them about issues like consent, gender, power, diversity, coercion or sexual equality.

When we do talk about ‘modern sex’ we often shame, through our own discomfort with things like, hook-ups, sexting or online porn, and young people are left feeling bad and with no information. In short: through deliberate or accidental exposure to a highly sexualized culture we’re dragging young people prematurely into a sexuality they may not be ready for, while at the same time telling them they’re on their own. This is a toxic mix. In this lecture, Nelly will draw upon her many years’ experience researching, designing and performing for young people to argue that family and sexual violence – and the gender inequality that underpins them – can be changed, but we all have to get in the game.

Nelly Thomas is an award-winning comedian, author and health promotion ambassador. She has toured nationally and internationally and performed in over a sixteen festivals in Australia and around the world. Nelly’s first book What Women Want was published in 2012. She has made a sexual health and ethics DVD for teens, directed numerous shows (including by Maria Bamford and Stella Young) and is a regular guest on Radio National and 774 ABC Melbourne. Nelly also writes for Daily Life, The Age and The Curio.

More information about this event is available online.

The Pamela Denoon Lecture was inaugurated in 1989 as a tribute to the memory of Pamela Denoon and as a reminder that the gains that have been made by women over the years have only been possible because of the enormous dedication of women like Pamela. Pamela Denoon worked tirelessly to promote equality for women and was the National Coordinator of Women’s Electoral Lobby from 1982-84. She actively lobbied for women’s rights in Canberra during the 1980s and her bequest helped establish the National Foundation for Australian Women and the Pamela Denoon Trust. 

The Pamela Denoon Lecture is a regular event during International Women’s Week in Canberra. Speakers have included politicians, academics and a few more well-known personalities such as Judy Horacek, Anne Summers and Julie McCrossin. The Lecture aims to inspire and motivate women to find out more about issues for women in Australia and encourage some of them to get involved in a local organisation that works to promote women’s rights and other major women’s issues.

The Lecture is funded through donations by the audience. If you would like to make a donation please write to:


Updated:  7 November 2012/Responsible Officer:  Convenor, Gender Institute/Page Contact:  Web manager, Gender Institute