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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“Are Women Invisible?” Clementine Ford Seminar – Photos and Live Recording

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The UQ Women’s Collective is pleased to announce the complete success of our event UQWC presents: Clementine Ford. Author, social commentator, and feminist Clementine Ford spoke on the topic of women and girls in the media at UQ on Friday, October 3rd to a full room of excited and engaged feminists. Ford is indeed an eloquent, sassy, and vital voice in modern-day feminism, unlike the world according to Andrew Bolt, who says she’s ‘just some feminist with bared tattoos’. Here are some great photos by UQWC member and photographer Talia Enright, with Clementine and the event’s main organiser and host, Amy Jelacic:

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We also have a recording of Clementine’s talk. Due to technical difficulties, the first five or so minutes of Clementine’s great speech has been cut off. But please enjoy the rest of her hour long talk and Q&A session as an audio recording here!

Thanks once again to all the UQWC members and the UQ Union who helped to make the day possible. You can find more photos of the day at our UQWC facebook page!

~ UQWC

“A Silent Struggle for Women” – Women and Sexism in Parliament

Here’s a much awaited copy of Izzy Manfield and Hannah Tilling’s speech (UQWC, represent!) from the UQ Social Justice forum held back in April this year. Our topic was “Women in Parliament” :) 

Hi everyone! I’m Izzy…

And I’m Hannah…

And we are here tonight to discuss women in Parliament, and how our perception of women and our reluctance to grant them power has prevented and is preventing equality in the Australian Parliament.

Let’s cut to the chase with some stats. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, women comprise approximately half of Australia’s total population. However, women are less than one-third of all parliamentarians in Australian parliaments. Considering Australian women only achieved the vote in 1902, you might say this will only take a matter of time and us women shouldn’t be so pushy. But is time all it will take to achieve equality in Australian Parliament?

We are here to tell you that we need more than time. We need a complete renovation of our female stereotypes in all walks of life and in all professions and situations. We need to investigate the role of women and the sexism they face to combat this discrimination. It’s a difficult issue to overcome. While this speech may not change the world straight up, we are hoping it will give you food for thought that all of you, both male and female and anything else, can and should take this information into your own workplaces and your own careers.

Sexism is difficult because it’s rarely out in the open. It’s covert, it’s hidden, it’s a silent pressure and a silent struggle for women. It’s hard to detect and even harder to prevent.

When a woman is in Parliament, no one is going to blatantly disclaim they are uncertain of her leadership capabilities because she is a woman. They disguise their uncertainties by dragging attention to her manner of dress, her intimate relationships or family or lack thereof or any other factors that have traditionally been applied to women to keep them out of power and in the household.

How can this be changed? What are we doing about the issue now, today, so we can have a better tomorrow? What will we see when we ‘look towards the future’?

In the past half decade, all appears to be looking up for women in Parliament in Australia. With Anna Bligh, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, there seems to be a lot of recent firsts for women in Australian politics. But is this enough?

A lack of women in Parliament isn’t simply going to solve itself by us pumping BULK female members into seats. The issue is how society perceives women in daily roles and the public’s perception of ideal leadership qualities. The lack of women in Parliament starts with who you think is most worthy of your vote. If there are a man and a woman with equal capabilities and they are equally level-headed policy makers and both are excellent organisers and public speakers, who are you going to vote for?

And it’s not even that. Do we really have a society that makes it socially acceptable for a woman to be interested in politics? And once a woman is involved, is she actively encouraged to be as engaged with the debate and can she actually take control of the meeting room without receiving increasing criticism from her peers?

I know you’ve heard it all before. The stereotypical qualities of a man include being responsible, protective, capable, and in control. When a man is assertive, he is perceived as in control; while for a woman, she is instead aggressive and abrupt. Even if a woman is assertive, we disguise this quality by applying these feminine qualities (such as bitchiness) which all have negative connotations. The way we can accept women into positions with power is to redistribute the adjectives we use to describe them. Masculine words are seen for the most part as gender neutral, while feminine words are explicitly engineered for women alone. We think Nicki Minaj sums this up quite nicely in her infamous ‘Bossed Up’ clip.

Since a woman is seen to be aggressive if she’s assertive, therefore a woman is conveyed as quite manipulative, secretive and passive aggressive: none of these qualities are desirable for leadership positions and hence make acquiring such positions as a woman all the more difficult. These qualities are more than just a stereotype, they are expected behaviours that are covertly enforced.

A woman can never win when it comes to leadership in this climate. Even if she isn’t manipulative or secretive, she is just thought to be cunning enough to hide her true character; instead being branded as fake and a liar. Take Julia Gillard for example. Her appointment as Prime Minister was entirely justified under the Australian political system, and yet her entire reign has been poisoned with her fellow Australians calling her a liar; a cheat; a back-stabbing bitch. Just imagine if Kevin Rudd’s and Julia Gillard’s positions had been switched with Gillard running for office in the election and Rudd then taking over shortly afterwards, how different the public reaction would have been.

Leadership qualities should be encouraged in all women, not just those who seek a political career. We can’t keep pretending all women are naturally submissive and family-orientated except for the rare, outstanding few ‘career women’ who are different. ‘Career women’ are not some aspirational, testosterone-pumped, genetically variant breed of female who are just men disguised in a woman’s body. All women have the potential to grasp and maintain power through a successful career; only in our current culture, it is seen as too difficult. I mean, the ideal woman is a fashion model for goodness sake! Yes, there is this painful idea that a woman can exist as an entity known as the ‘career woman’. This creature first appeared in the fossil record circa the second world war, but the species really began to thrive in populace during the seventies. The ‘career woman’ is, simply put, a mutant female specimen who has sacrificed her womanhood for her career. She is not expected to care for a family, and if she does she is encouraged to sacrifice her career; or vice versa. But of course, career and family cannot be combined by any female, not even this new ‘career woman’ type. Of course, family is only a lovely pasttime for a man, as opposed to a full-time job for a woman. Women who choose career over a family life are doomed to a lonely existence as a spinster and are missing a key organ that is a key characteristic of the ordinary female: the heart. If these career women don’t have an interest in fashion or a particular interest in how she presents herself, she is never going to get very far. Accordingly, the process of natural selection acts to remove such women from the gene pool through discrimination and criticism. The reality is, labelling women in power as ‘career women’ is demeaning and just goes to show how shocking a woman in power still is to the public eye.

It’s not just an annoying social dilemma with a bit of ‘shock factor’ to boot. Sexism in parliament is a form of harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace. Somehow there is still a covert kind of status quo that appears to rank women incapable when it comes to making decisions and executing them.

Instead of sweeping this under the table, we need to recognise it for what it is. Sexism. In the words of Prime Minister Julia Gillard in her internationally acclaimed Misogynist speech – ‘Sexism should always be unacceptable’. Why should we take the opportunity to disregard women in politics, such as Gillard herself, and cast off our negativity simply as political banter. Women should be encouraged to speak out and be passionate about social justice issues; to be honest and assertive, not be afraid to have leadership qualities and to be empowered. Looking forward to the future, I think that our country and the global community have a huge potential for equality in Parliament.

Instead of looking to others and waiting for this thing we call society to pick up its game, you, the people sitting in this room right now, need to recognise you are a part of this society and what you say, do and – even more importantly – think really impacts on even big things like equality for women in Parliament.

For if not now, when? If not here, where? If not you, who? This change starts with you and it starts when you assess your own behaviours and realise that sexism is everywhere – even in your own subconscious mind.

We hope this short speech has perhaps opened your mind to the possibilities for women. Imagine a world where women were given equal opportunity to participate in politics at a Parliamentary level, and imagine a world where the new glasses of a female Prime Minister didn’t make frontpage headline news.

So good evening. We hope you’ve learnt something new and we hope you can question your own thinking enough to see more women in power, and thus more women in Parliament. Achieving this will open the window of opportunity for Australian women, which make up 50% of the population, to have equal representation in decision making for the country.