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

Destroy The Joint: A Review

By Molly Eliza

Personally, I was a huge fan of Julia Gillard, and I thought the media and the general public were unfair and at times sexist towards her. Prominent shock-jocks such as Alan Jones would dedicate all their airspace to attacking her and misogyny was rife. One afternoon, as things were really bubbling to the surface, Jones infamously claimed that female leaders are “destroying the joint”. Jane Caro then started the twitter hashtag #destroythejoint which went viral within a matter of hours. From this was born a large online collective action movement, and eventually a collection of essays curated by Jane Caro was published.

Destroy the Joint is well worth reading, especially as a fledgling feminist. Although most of it is very Australia-specific there are some great essays that represent a variety of viewpoints. In the age of the web, tumblr and blogging it is good to have a breath of fresh, local air. Lily Edelstein’s discussion of her experiences as a teenage girl is especially poignant; Rookie magazine gets a name-check along with prolific teen girl blogger Sarah Grrrlfever, whose manifesto has thousands of notes on Tumblr. Continue reading

Gender $tudies – Can We Afford the Cost?

By Laura Howden

*Trigger Warnings: this article contains a brief mention of rape and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised if sensitive to content of this nature.*

Two undergraduate students at the April 18 rally on UQ’s St Lucia campus, preparing to lead the march. (Photo captured by Laura Howden.)

Two undergraduate students at the April 18 rally on UQ’s St Lucia campus, preparing to lead the march. (Photo captured by Laura Howden.)

“When Gender Studies is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” The chant ripples through the crowd as we march across the St Lucia campus of The University of Queensland (UQ); a formidable assembly of staff and students armed with megaphones, banners and copies of an online petition that amassed some 836 signatures of support. Our final destination is the UQ senate meeting, at which representatives from UQ’s Gender Studies Teaching Committee hope to present evidence against the institution’s decision to abolish the major. Close to a dozen police officers await our arrival at the foot of the building. Requests to allow a delegation from our ranks to enter the senate are refused but, at the last, they allow a copy of the petition and two other documents to be handed through the line of officers and tabled by the board. When we finally disperse the protestors’ anger and frustration is palpable, and it is clear that this issue is a long way away from reaching any kind of resolution.

The April 18 rally was organised in response to an announcement by the university’s Executive Arts Dean, Fred D’Agostino, that as of 2014 Gender Studies would no longer be offered as a choice of major for undergraduate students (with existing students given the option to continue on until 2018). One week prior to the protest event, Mr D’Agostino was quoted in The Australian newspaper as saying he “was not aware” of any complaints from undergraduate students – this in spite of the vocal ‘Save Gender Studies’ student collective on campus, which held its first meeting of the year on March 11.

But it has not just been local students standing up and speaking out against the cuts. Director of Gender Studies at Melbourne University, Professor Jeanette Hoorn, spoke both at the rally and at an earlier forum alongside members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). She noted in each of her talks that UQ would now be the only GO8 university in Australia not to offer a gender or women’s studies program, and urged UQ administrators to recognise its significance beyond the classroom. “I believe you cannot do any gender studies in Iran these days,” Professor Hoorn said at the rally. “It’s a shame you can’t do much in Queensland either.”

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UQWC’s Reply to ‘Fabulous Feminism’ in Semper Floreat

In this year’s first issue of the UQU student magazine, Semper Floreat, there was an article published titled “Fabulous Feminism” by Vivienne Hartwig. It was far from fabulous. The UQ Women’s Collective, concerned with the warped view of feminism Vivienne presented, wrote a reply. We’ve submitted this reply to the Semper Editors in the hopes of it being published in issue two of Semper. This seems unlikely, but not that this matters; we’ll be publishing our reply in the upcoming issue of our magazine, Wom*news, and it will stay here so everyone can share it with their friends.

Vivienne’s article is first, with our reply below it.

Fabulous Feminism by Vivienne Hartwig:

Fabulous Feminism

The UQ Women’s Collective’s Reply:

UQWC Reply to Fabulous Feminism

Thanks to Emma, Lorelei, Rosie, Julia for writing our reply, and to Emily for designing it in feminist purple! And thanks to you for sharing this around!

 

 

Flashback to 1981: UQU Bans Sale of Magazines Exploiting Women

This fabulous piece of herstory will be featured in the upcoming issue of Wom*news: #8 Flashback!

Anna Bligh and Kerry Boman explain why magazines which exploit women's bodies were banned from sale by the UQU.

Anna Bligh and Kerry Boman explain in Semper why magazines which exploit women’s bodies were banned from sale by the UQU.

This article from a 1981 edition of the UQ Union students’ magazine, Semper, showcases ex-Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and fellow UQ Women’s Collective member Kerry Boman explaining why magazines that exploited women were removed from sale on campus. Anna Bligh went on to become the students’ women’s officer during her time at UQ. There are also some interesting related women’s and queer issues raised in the other replies on this page.

~ Emma Di Bernardo

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A Letter To The UQWC

By Madeline Price

A Letter to the UQWC, on Behalf of One Proud Member

This letter will feature in Wom*news #8: Flashback.

Dear University of Queensland Wom*ns Collective,

As a proud member of the Collective over the past year, I have been inspired, my faith in feminism, women and crushing the patriarchal dividend has been restored, by the wonderful people I have met, the incredible events I have attended and the brilliant discussions I have been privy to.

We may vary in our opinions (on issues such as pornography, Andrea Dworkin and more), our feminisms (cultural, radical, black, liberal..), our gender identities (woman, transgendered, gender queer..), our sexualities (lesbian, asexual, bisexual, polysexual, heterosexual..), but our beliefs about the strength of women, the importance of women in society and the equality they deserve are universal throughout the Collective.

UQWC at Reclaim The Night 2012

UQWC at Reclaim The Night 2012

The Collective may be in the minority on campus, but it – we – are influencing the majority in the outside world. Our participation in Reclaim the NightSlutWalk and White Ribbon, as well as our fundraising for Blue Stockings Week and Pink Ribbon has not gone unnoticed. More importantly than that, we have not let the UQ Union beat us, nor cause us to become disillusioned about change.

It inspires me that these wonderful people in the Collective will be our future teachers, archaeologists, writers, philosophers, lawyers, scientists, anthropologists, university lecturers, politicians, doctors, museum curators, accountants, government workers – our future. It inspires me to have met so many young people advocating for change, for equality, for an end to the disparities faced by so many in our society.

It inspires me that there are so many like-minded people, not yet jaded by the harsh reality faced by those wishing to invoke such society-altering change, but instead ever the more passionate about overcoming such a hurdle.

The whole of the UQWC inspires me.

With much heartfelt affection and admiration,

Madeline

The Second Wave Began in Brisbane

By Nicole Maree

(As featured in the upcoming issue of wom*news!)

Growing up in Brisbane I had always known about the Regatta Hotel’s place in the history of the women’s movement. My mother had begun her nights out as a young woman in the late 1970s with her girlfriends by having a drink at the Regatta in honour of Brisbane feminist activists Merle Thornton and Ro Bognor, who had chained themselves to the bar of the Regatta Hotel on the 31st of March 1965 in order to protest the exclusion of women in public spaces, so that aspect of Brisbane history feels like a little part of my own feminist family history. But what I didn’t know was the story of how this demonstration was the first feminist direct action protest of the second wave in the world, and would come to characterise and inspire the activism of second wave feminism – at that time called the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The story began with a discussion among some feminist women at the University of Queensland. At the time it was not just against social custom for women to drink in Queensland bars, it was actually illegal, and publicans could be fined for serving women alcohol. When the Queensland Government was proposing amendments to the Liquor Act, a small group of feminist women, including Merle Thornton, decided that there was an opportunity to petition the government. They met with the Queensland Minister for Justice to request he remove legislation preventing women from drinking in public bars. By Thornton’s account the Minister had been polite though patronising, even offering the women a beer in jest, but their proposal was decisively declined. Having attempted the persuasive approach, the next step was radical action. For Thornton, direct action “articulated a loss of patience with intolerable restrictions”.

The following day Merle and Ro entered the Regatta Hotel, strode casually to the bar and ordered a lemonade. Of course, they were refused service, but Merle and Ro were prepared for such an eventuality and proceeded to chain themselves to the bar-rail at the Regatta Hotel; they weren’t leaving any time soon. While the women were ordering their drinks, the ‘male auxiliary’ (mainly consisting of the women’s husbands) were handing out pamphlets outlining their arguments for why women should be able to drink in bars. Meanwhile, the bar staff had alerted the police. The police attended, first uniformed then plain clothes, but Merle and Ro refused, politely I imagine, to leave. Their action was immediately divisive – some of the men in the bar offered to buy them drinks, while others heckled them.

The media response was overwhelming, and their actions are reported not just in Australia, but all over the world. They were dubbed the “bar room suffragettes”. After the protest they received a groundswell of public support with press coverage largely in favour of their actions, they also received angry and negative phone calls and messages, including death threats. Negative attention extended to parliament house, with Queensland parliamentarians saying that their “husbands needed psychiatric help” and that their children should be taken into care – so egregious and unnatural was the proposition that women might want to enjoy a pint at the pub. While some people have the perception that the Regatta protest was simply about the right to drink, and have criticized it for not being about the ‘real’ or ‘more important’ issues for women. For Merle the bar room protest was not about beer (she had ordered a lemonade) so much as it was about the acceptance of women in public life and the end of the “confinement of women to the private domestic world”. These were and are very important issue for women and for feminism. After the Regatta protest, women all around Australia began demonstrations, entering public bars and insisting on staying, and all around the world women were entering public life and insisting on their right to do so.

Thornton’s activism led to not only the bar protest, but to the formation of the Brisbane activist group Equal Opportunities for Women (EOW), which went on to successfully campaign for the elimination of the marriage bar within the Commonwealth Public Service. At that time any women employed in the public service were “deemed to have resigned” upon their marriage and were compensated with a week’s pay for every year of service to “compensate for the loss of her career”. The EOW concentrated on formal aspects of discrimination, including equal pay, jury duty, and public childcare services. Bill Hayden, the federal ALP member for Oxley and future Governor-General, was a member of EOW, and as an opposition backbencher brought forward a private members motion using the research undertaken by EOW that urged for both the elimination the marriage bar, as well as the institution of maternity leave. This action pushed the Government to make the necessary changes to the Public Service Act, in 1966, to end the marriage bar and introduce the first maternity leave legislation in Australia. The EOW had won.

But it was not enough for Thornton – her indomitable passion for social change led her to focus on changing not just laws, but social understanding. Thornton began teaching the first ever Women’s Studies course in Australia at the University of Queensland, with fellow academic and head of Sociology Paul Wilson in 1962. When Merle started working as an academic, the male and female staff had segregated common rooms, but Merle changed all that by simply sitting in the male staffroom. Apparently the male staff were too frightened of her to say anything, so the university quietly and without a fuss refurbished the women’s staff room, which became used for another purpose, and the male staff room simply became ‘the staff room’. Thornton also gave public lectures at UQ on sex education and the contraceptive pill, which had only recently become available for women in Australia, titled Contraception and the Humanising of Women.

Merle Thornton’s activism has had a profound and personal effect on my own life. Not only do I take the freedom to drink in a public bar as a given, or that I will retain employment upon marriage; I am also studying the university course that she founded.

Image: (2012) Nicole Maree

Just this year I had the great privilege of meeting Merle and sharing a drink with her and a crowd of fellow feminists in the ‘Thornton Room’ at the Regatta Hotel. We had successfully invaded the public ‘men’s space’ at the bar and were even using foul language – everything those opposed to women drinking in public bars had feared would happen.

Next time you’re having a drink in a public bar in Queensland, whether it’s the Regatta or not, raise your glass in honour of Merle and Ro – two truly great women who started the second wave.

~ Nicole Maree

References

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