Clementine Ford: Uncompromising

UQ Journalism student Sophie Meixner’s recap of the “Are Women Invisible?” seminar by Clementine Ford and the UQ Women’s Collective.

“Uncompromising.”

It’s the attitude Clementine Ford has always taken in her approach to feminism. But with the recent resurgence of the ‘feminist’ tag in popular culture – from Emma Watson’s speech to the U.N. to the shocked reaction to Germaine Greer’s comments on the Duchess of Cambridge – it was a good time to hear the young writer’s insights firsthand.

On Friday October 3 Ms Ford joined members of the UQ Women’s Collective for an informal but passionate discussion entitled “The Invisibility of Women in the Media.”

Warm, engaging and prone to an off-the-cuff tangent or two, Ford began her speech by quoting the first paragraph of Susan Faludi’s iconic feminist treatise Backlash, which warned in 1991 of a growing feeling of hostility toward the feminist movement.

It was an infuriating reality, Ford noted, that many concerns of the now-23-year-old book (older than some students in the room) still applied so seamlessly to young women today.

Though young women continue to live in a society where powerful male politicians see fit to legislate to curb their reproductive rights, where domestic and sexual violence against women are real and continuing threats, and where not even our own Prime Minister is immune to sexism, Ford argued women are rendered invisible by a pervasive “yay, equality!” mindset in which we’re told “the fight for equality’s been won” and so to “shut up” because “feminism’s over.”

This is a problem for young women today, Ford said, because feminist progress is not seen as an urgent, or even necessary, priority. The complacency may lie in segments of society who believe feminism has gone too far the other way, viewing men as the “abused chattel” pitted against educated, go-getting women who are “not just equal now but superior.”

The outcome is a flurry among young feminists to avoid seeming too hostile to male recruits – a mistake that Ford says British actress Emma Watson succumbed to in her much-praised speech to the U.N. last month, in which she urged feminists to strive for men’s issues as well as women’s.

While Ford commended Watson for her bravery in using such a global platform to speak about gender inequality – and noted there’s certainly no “right” way to “do” feminism – she warned against “bending and scraping” merely to render feminism more “male-accessible.” Men don’t need “hand-engraved invitations to participate” and then a “cookie” when they do: indeed, the least we should expect is for men to be allies to the feminist cause already without expecting something in return.

While it’s true gender equality continues to hit massive milestones, it is a simple fact that feminism is not finished, and the gains the movement achieves should not be used as an excuse to “shut us up.” This is where Ford’s “uncompromising” attitude comes into play.

“Radicalise,” was her advice. “If they think you’re a man-hater because it’s the only way to minimise you, then let them. Women have been invisible for far too long – it’s time to demand our place now. If a man chooses to be an ally, great, but there are so many people who need to be given space in feminism before we need to worry about giving men space.

This is because in Ford’s version of feminism, nobody is be a feminist merely to serve to their own interests. White, educated feminists may have the privilege of fighting for seats on boards and equal pay, but there are still groups of women further marginalised by society.

For instance, just as able-bodied women may be unnecessarily sexualised by the media, Ford observed that some disabled women are fighting for the right to be viewed in a sexual way. The same perspective is needed if we look overseas to the countless atrocities still committed against women, from sex slavery to genital mutilation to the simple denial of an education. “Statistics are your friend,” Ford noted, and with circumstances like these still existing all across the world, any argument that feminism is “over” starts to seem awfully dangerous.

“Women have been invisible for too long,” were her final words for the audience. “It’s time to demand our place now. It’s not up to feminists to make space for men, it’s up to men to use the space they already have in society for feminism.”

Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt dismissed her in 2012 as “just some feminist with bared tattoos” (a moniker she seems a little too happy to adopt). And it’s true that someone like Clementine Ford, who writes so articulately, who holds her opinions so resolutely, can seem like an intimidating figure to some. But the woman we encountered at UQ on Friday was warm, funny, open to ideas, and, above all, relatable.

The UQ Women’s Collective is to be congratulated for bringing Clementine’s insight onto our campus. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a vibrant campus culture in which feminist issues, which affect all of us, are heard, debated, and encouraged.

~ Sophie Meixner

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