Transcript of ‘Fight Like A Girl with Clementine Ford’
Speakers: Cathy PIlgrim (CP), Nikki Anderson (NA), Clementine Ford (CF)
Location: National Library of Australia
CP: Good evening. Good evening, ladies and gentleman. What a wonderful audience tonight. Welcome to the National Library of Australia, my name’s Cathy Pilgrim. I’m the Assistant Director General of the Executive and Public Programs Division here at the Library. As we begin tonight I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land that we now are privileged to call home.
Tonight we will hear from writer, speaker and feminist thinker, Clementine Ford. Clementine is a columnist for Fairfax’s popular website, Daily Life, and is also a regular contributor to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Her career as a journalist has long been devoted to issues of gender equality, men’s violence against women and also popular culture. Her first book, Fight Like a Girl, was an instant bestseller following its release last year, an impassioned and unflinching expose of just how unequal the world continues to be for girls and women and why we have to change that now. Fight Like a Girl has elicited a committed following amongst women of all ages.
This evening Clementine is in conversation with Nikki Anderson. Nikki is a freelance communications and publishing specialist and Co-Chair of the Feminist Writers’ Festival. She’s also a great friend of the Library. Please now join me in welcoming Clementine and Nikki.
NA: What a fabulous audience. Thank you, Canberra. I must say I’ve done lots of author interviews but I haven’t had whoops before. I mean I know they were for you but it’s a bit exciting.
CF: I think it’s for the wine, that’s what I’m excited about.
NA: Yeah, yeah and sorry, we are having wine and you will have yours later but any - it’ll all even out.
CF: I’m spending he first night of the last six months away from my baby and I’m – feel like I’m on holiday, I’m celebrating.
NA: Oh you’re –
CF: You’re not supposed to say that as a woman, you’re supposed to say it’s terribly hard, I expect to go home and cry all night but –
NA: We know you’ve been in tears all day and –
CF: It’s just awful.
NA: I reckon you will wake up tomorrow morning about six and go oh my god, I’ve forgotten something –
CF: I did have a moment when I got out of the taxi on the way to the airport where I’d gotten all my things and I was walking, I thought oh shit, I’ve left him in the car.
NA: Have you done that yet like –
CF: No, I haven’t although on a very serious note I have - there’s been a couple of times when I’ve been driving where I’ve really felt the depth of sleep deprivation and thought I shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car right now you know you sort of –
NA: Especially with precious cargo.
CF: Yeah and I can really understand how women end up leaving a baby in the car you know just –
NA: Yeah –
CF: I mean it’s a terrible, awful, tragic thing to do anything that would endanger the life of your baby but it’s just so easy and as I said to you before we came out here, I don’t want to spend too much time talking about motherhood tonight ‘cause it’s not really what the book’s about but obviously I wrote the book and then I became a mother and so a lot of my feminist thinking has really expanded to include issues around motherhood and domestic labour and the inequality of labour that’s done in the home even in relationships where you think – you go into it and like well we’ve got a very equal partnership and I just know that our relationship is going to continue in that respect and when women say that to me now or when people who are pregnant say that to me now I can’t help have a little bit of you know yeah, a little smug you wait.
NA: Do you manage to zip it though or –
CF: Yeah because you don’t want you know I also hated that when I was pregnant, people saying well blah, blah, blah, this – you – and my friend, Anna had the best way of responding to questions around that and you know when I was – ask her advice about something and I feel like it’s really applicable to lots of things if you’re asking for advice in your life generally speaking which is she would always say well everyone is different, every baby’s different but this is what worked for us.
CF: And it kind of - again that’s sort of something that I’ve learned through the experience of motherhood, is not a different kind of tolerance but a different way of addressing the needs that people have because I’ve always been very much like a person, if someone comes to me and says I’m having this you know if a friend comes and shares an emotional issue that they’re having, I’m a problem-solver and that doesn’t mean that I’m very good at solving those problems but I want to be the problem-solver and that’s you know it’s been a process of learning that that’s not always what people want, sometimes they just want to share their experiences which I will use to segue back to the book which is you know so much of the experience just generally of being women is wanting to share your experience of the world and having people tell you well no, you need to fix that or let’s see how we can fix that or you’re wrong.
NA: Wow, there are so many entry points I could go into but I might go straight then to the personal kind of stuff because I think that has been such a galvanising thing about your writing bit especially of the book. I think it’s that you know no holds barred sharing the personal that gives younger women an entry point perhaps, it’s a bit of a gateway to feminism but – so I’d love to kind of know from you has that been a really conscious thing for you to say I’m going to write personally because that is the way I’m going to sell feminism to the masses or is it just what works for you?
CF: It’s a little bit of both like cynically yes, there is some element in there of how can I market it? And it’s not because I’m a marketing kind of person but because practically speaking you have to figure out a way to make your message not palatable ‘cause I’ve never really been concerned about that but accessible. I know, funny, isn’t it?
NA: Clementine Ford, all about palatable.
CF: Well when I – it’s not true that I’ve never been focused on that, once I’d embraced the feminist within which is not becoming a feminist but recognising that feminism was the only way I could really make it through the world, once I’d embraced that and then became a writer and you know a feminist writer I did what so many of us do which is – and which thankfully we’re starting to break the mould of doing now but which was to try and just be so nice about everything, the softly, softly approach, you know? As I say in the book my dad always said to me when I was growing up, you’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar. But I also make the point in the book that he never said that to my brother, it’s only ever girls who hear that. You have to be nice and sweet and I still see it happening now and it frustrates me so much, that to sell a message - not to sell, to impart upon people the importance of a message of empowerment for women and not just empowerment but the message that all women, no matter what kind of women they are, deserve to have dignity and respect and the ability to navigate their own life experience and to be in charge of their own narrative.
And to do all that without having to worry about an additional you know raft of violence is done towards them. That we shouldn’t have to do that and also be charged with making men feel good about it or making men feel like they’re not part of the problem because they are part of the problem exactly the same way that as a white person I am part of the problem of white supremacy. And I can’t just say well you know I consciously don’t think of myself as a racist because I don’t get to decide whether or not I am or not. And I have the privilege of being able to wake up every day and say I don’t really feel like targeting racism today or the privilege of waking up and not always recognising it. You know so it has to be – if you are part of - there’s a writer who I really love called [Agerma Luwo] 8:32 and she’s an American writer and you can follow her on Facebook.
She’s writing a book, she’s just admitted it, it’s a book about race and I think it’s mainly focused on racism but obviously is a feminist as well and she’ll be covering that too. But she writes really amazing, thought-provoking things and she recently wrote something about no matter what your background is you have to figure out where your privilege intersects – I’m going to misquote her, I think – it was something like you have to figure out where your oppression intersects with your privilege and start there. So as a you know like I tried to be very conscious in the book of recognising that yes, I’m a woman who experiences gender oppression but I also experience a whole raft of privileges that I need to be conscious of in the same way that I challenge and demand of men to be conscious of gender oppression and not just sort of go well I’m a good guy and that’s the extent of the involvement that I need to have.
NA: Yeah, I feel much the same way and I you know I’m a good possibly 10 years younger than you, also from South Australia. I did have a good Barbara Hanrahan quote which I might you know bring out later as another South Aussie but I think you know similarly came to feminism like you at university you know became sort of radicalised that way and whatever and then – but this sort of new I guess intersectionality of feminism and really checking your privilege and really looking at what feminism has not done and how it hasn’t been inclusive I’ve found a really interesting new – not necessarily supernew but yeah, it’s been a really interesting direction both you know for feminism really broadly but I think for feminists individually, it’s really you know made us kind of question everything. And I think that’s so, so healthy for any belief system that you have because it really makes you look at how you’re living your life and how – and you think you’re an activist but then actually –
NA: - what am I missing here?
CF: Well I was thinking about it recently and you know again I want to stress that my take on intersectionality clearly comes from my own perspective and the reason I can talk about it maybe to the limited even extent that I can is because of the writing that other women have done on this topic. So I’m by no means an expert at all. But the way that I think about what feminism is going through now is you know people like to talk about infighting and oh it’s been divisive and we’re all turning on each other and we need to just be one unit but it’s usually people who are at the top of the pile who say that about any kind of structural oppression. So I like to think of it now as feminism’s going through a process of kneading out a lot of really hidden knots in the movement you know that – and it’s necessary and it’s painful, it does hurt. I’m not saying that anyone needs to care about that pain you know no one needs to care about the pain that I feel going through checking my own privilege but it’s a human emotion to feel defensive and to feel like you need to qualify that you’re not that type of person. It’s what you do with those feelings afterwards that count you know if you kind of like dig your heels in and double down and you say well no, you’re being divisive, you need to accept this, that or the other then you’re being just as bad as the people who you’re fighting against.
So even though yes, sometimes I’ve definitely had my little human emotions where I’ve gone and licked my wounds and felt like they’re being unfair to me, I’m a good person you know then you kind of like – I try and remind myself to stop and think about why that is painful and what I can do to make it less painful for other people because if I’m feeling pain over it the person who’s saying it to me is feeling a hundred times more –
NA: Exactly. And how amazing that they can actually –
NA: - you know speak out about that and be vulnerable about it and –
CF: And I feel like if we kind of all – if we try and approach things with that level of intellectual engagement in a topic across all sorts of issues then we’ll actually progress pretty far. Like a good example is – and this isn’t anything to do with the intersectionality issue but there was another topic that – it’s the endless argument about women taking their husband’s names when they get married you know and I am personally deeply opposed to that.
CF: But look some people in this room will have done that and where I think it kind of becomes really frustrating is that that conversational topic will open up and the women who’ve done it may feel like they need to defend their choice whereas I would prefer to approach all sorts of different topics like that not as a point of you need to defend your choice or your choice is wrong but yes, you made a choice, you made a choice in the context of the community and the culture that you’re living in, can we talk about the conditions that we live in that maybe led to that choice?
NA: ‘Cause that’s the interesting stuff.
CF: And having that discussion isn’t me saying to you you’re wrong for taking your husband’s name, it’s not saying you need to change it otherwise you’re a bad feminist and it’s not saying you’re an idiot either, it’s saying like let’s talk about cultural conditioning because no one makes choices in a vacuum and sometimes we just sort of like run up against these roadblocks all the time because people sometimes make the argument that you’re taking things too personally and that is the wrong line to take because they’re taking it personally because it affects their life and it affects their safety and certain things that people complain about and are activists about, they can’t separate the personal from the political because it is their life. But then there are other things that – it doesn’t affect anyone’s life in you know in the western context. There are very few people who will face oppression if they don’t take their husband’s name so why can’t we have a conversation about what’s leading to those choices?
And then the defence that’s always put up is well isn’t feminism about choice? And I always think well it has to be about so much more than women just having the luxury of being able to make a choice about something as relatively meaningless as what name you have when you get married. It has to be about liberation, it has to be about you know it has to be about actual challenge and fight and hurt and pain and re – like dismantling the whole system to create a better place for all people you know not just about operating within the oppressive structure that we have and trying to make it better for some people. And saying well but I made a choice within that structure and therefore I have freedom.
NA: Yeah well the choice to do this and that and therefore you know we are post feminist or whatever so – but I think it’s that interrogation - going back to the kind of the personal and saying interrogation of the personal and the surrounds that is the thing about all of your personal stories and your sharing and you know it’s that on the one hand creating those kind of – talking about things that people – that resonate with people, that they can relate to, women in particular obviously but then also saying it’s not just about the personal, this is a gendered phenomenon like you are experiencing these things because of something more and I think that’s the kind of – the gateway feminism thing, it’s like you know I can share stories of abortion or sexual assault or you know whatever it is and I drag you in and because we have this you know this commonality but we need to actually talk about the fact that that commonality is our gendered experience of the world.
CF: Yeah and so much of it is hidden and it’s hidden because we feel awkward about talking about it and we also are again conditioned to feel like nice polite conversation doesn’t cover the experiences of 50% of the world. We wouldn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable if we actually talked about the things that are done to us and you know I like to make that distinction as well between saying the things that happen to us and the things that are done to us because so – I mean even when you look at the way that reporting is done in the media about violence against women, so often it’s the passive voice. Sometimes you have to make it to the third or fourth paragraph before you even find out who was involved in the other party, exactly you know or you know like even with the terrible story recently in Melbourne you know the guy who ran into all the people on Bourke Street Mall, one of the headlines that I read was a car runs into you know and kills –
NA: A driverless car apparently.
CF: But you know like who’s driving the car? You know who’s actually exerting the violence over people? And I remember having a conversation with – I won’t say who it was in my life but a conversation with someone who was in my life for a period of time not in a romantic sense, thank God, and he was saying you know the sort of classic conversation that many of us would have had with someone and felt incredibly frustrated like we’re banging our head up against a brick wall where they’re insisting on the one hand that women need to take responsibility for their safety, that we nee – that the world is a bad place and there are evil monsters out there and you know we just need to be practical and you can’t just leave your wallet on the windowsill of your house or on the dashboard of your car, there are so many different like analogies of possessions that equate to a woman’s body you know where it’s just been left unlocked somewhere.
NA: Yes, exactly, yeah.
CF: I’ve forgotten my vagina. I left it at – it was open. Oh. And you know saying on the one hand that we need to protect ourself and then – but you don’t – don’t you dare try and protect yourself against me, I’m a good guy, how dare you make me feel like I was a threat? So I was having this conversation with this man and he was making that argument and my friend and I were saying back to him well that’s ridiculous you know it’s not women’s responsibility to project themselves from violence, it’s men’s responsibility not to be violent against women and that’s where the focus needs to be. And he said oh well I don’t know anyone who’s been raped. And I just thought how –
NA: Roll out some statistics there.
CF: You don’t – firstly you don’t know anything about what you’re talking about because if you looked up even a cursory article about it then you would have come across some statistics which would tell you that you’re wrong but also of course they’re not going to tell you around the dinner table because you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable but of course they’re not going to tell you because you’re a hostile person to their experience. Why would they confide that information to you when you clearly have made it clear to them that you’re unsafe? You know? And that’s what so much – I think that what I really wanted to do with the book and what I tried very hard to do was to acknowledge that the experiences that we have as women that we minimise because we just assume that either they’re only happening to us or they happen to every other woman so they’re not – either way they’re not a big deal and we certainly don’t have any grounds to make complaints about them.
But actually we are entitled to give voice to those experiences because they’re not something that happened as a parenthetical thing to the experience of being human, they’re very much about the experience of being a particular kind of human. And they happen to so many of us that why are these experiences not being discussed and targeted as being something that we want to stamp out of our collective culture as human beings? And I feel like – oh it’s always hard to know ‘cause I do live in such a bubble you know everyone thinking the same way I do but I feel like the conversation around sexual assault and rape is starting you know like people are starting to flick that, question it a little bit. It’s not about what was she doing, it was about well how dare he you know well why is he raping someone and why he is sexually assaulting someone? So I kind of feel like there has been –
NA: Well why does this article about it talk about his sporting abilities?
CF: Oh yeah, exactly or his ruined career or he was – yeah, you know? So I do – it’s a small change but the good thing about that is that – I think that’s true as well and I’ve been very heartened in seeing you know I’ve been writing in - publicly about feminism for the last 10 years and I've definitely experienced a shift. And yes, there are people who send me hideous things and do horrific things to me online but whatever like it’s water off a duck’s back really unless they you know target members of my family. If they’re just saying things about me I couldn’t care less whether or not they want to have sex with me. I’m sure given their attitude towards women they wouldn’t be very good at it.
But I have definitely noticed a shift in the way that people are prepared to talk about these things and also in the way that excuses are not now being made and what that signifies to me is that when people say you need to be nicer to men for example because you need to have them on board, I never got anywhere with men as an audience when I was being nice to them and when I was saying well of course - when I was spending a quarter of every article that I wrote saying well of course not every man is like this and of course there are many brilliant men out there and we know that you, man, reading this wouldn’t possibly ever do anything like this. I never got anywhere because of course if you just provide the excuse to people to give themselves a little pat on the back because they’ve done the minimum that they need to do which is read an article by a woman about this topic –
NA: Like tick, feminist.
CF: Yeah and they can say well I’m very informed on this topic, you know? I support women writers, I read them sometimes. That doesn’t result in anything and again like going back to what I said earlier it hasn’t resulted – that nice, nice approach never resulted in any change in me when people were talking about the oppression that they experienced from racism. It’s being made to feel uncomfortable that creates change, it’s being challenged on your position and it’s being explicitly told, not ask yourself how you’re complicit in this but accept that you’re complicit in this and do what needs to be done to change that. And that I think is what is resulting in this change and that is why talking about it has been so important so I mean I figured that out but what I want to say to women especially and to young girls especially is that any feeling that they have of I need to be nicer about this, I need to package my message a little bit more sweetly, I need to be less bolshy, all of these words that are used to describe women who are you know just going to – I need to be less of a nasty woman about this. No, you need to be more of a nasty woman about this –
CF: - because it will – you’ll get you know you’ll create enemies along the way but the end result will be worth it because people will make that change. And I’m sorry, I’ll just say one more thing on that topic but when I still sort of sense that people are struggling to kind of wrap their head around how you could be really decisive and really non – what’s the word? Nonnegotiable about these issues. I always use the example of when we banned smoking in restaurants and in Adelaide where I was living at the time they banned smoking in restaurants around 1996. And at the time they said well you’ll never be able to ban smoking in restaurants because people love going out to a restaurant and having a meal and having a cigarette and this is just an infringement on our civil liberties. And they banned smoking because they recognised that it was a health hazard and they banned smoking and then within a very, very short period of time people were fine with the ban on smoking in restaurants and then about 10 years later they banned smoking in pubs.
And when they proposed the legislation people said well you’ll definitely never be able to ban smoking in pubs because people like to go out and have a drink after work and this is an infringement on our civil liberties. But they banned smoking in pubs because they recognised it was a health hazard. And now if you went into a restaurant or a pub or a public building in anywhere in this country and you lit up a cigarette people would look at you like you were a pariah, they would look at you like there was something deeply wrong with you and it would be demanded that you either put it out or that you left, maybe even both. And people wouldn’t tolerate or accept it.
And violence against women is a health hazard and violence against women isn’t just physical violence, it’s not just the most extreme end of the spectrum, violence against women occurs because we allow for the continuum of violence to exist which means that we allow for all of the foundations to erect that violence to be in place, sexist jokes, misogynist comments, the fact that you know women are spoken of as being not you know the meritocracy argument, all of these little ideas that we allow to continue pervading people’s ideas about what women are. And what we should tolerate and what we should laugh at and what we’re not allowed to complain about and funnily enough the people who always make those agents are never the ones being targeted by the jokes. And from the very few occasions that I’ve posted jokes about men on Twitter or on Facebook I can tell you they do not know how to take a joke about themselves. They don’t even recognise that it is a joke because it’s so astonishing to them that anyone could make a joke about them so they literally believe you when you say you’re going to build a cannon and fire them into the sun.
So if we recognise that violence against women including sexism and misogyny is a health hazard and we actually take a definitive – we decide as a community that we will not tolerate this is any way, shape or form, yes, people will complain about it in the beginning and they’ll say well you can’t police people’s thoughts but within a few years you would get to the point where if someone told even just a really basic retro sexist joke people wouldn’t neces – I’m not saying they’d be angry at them but they would look at them and they’d be like why would you say that? I don’t even get it, it’s not – why would you think that that’s funny? And that’s the direction that we need to go in.
NA: Yeah. And again I kind of feel like it’s happening like I feel like in my lifetime those conversations have really come up and you sort of have to be hopeful about it, don’t you? That change is ahappening.
CF: Yeah well if you’re not hopeful about it then what’s the point of living?
NA: Exactly, exactly. I just want to talk about girlhood a bit and you go into – you talk about your girlhood and your childhood and you know all of the things that made you and I think there would have been a lot of surprises for readers who know you as you know public feminist number one so know that you’ve gone through what you know a lot of us went through in terms of you know body image stuff and lack of confidence and worse. But I’m just – and while I’m interested in your personal story, I’m just wondering about your – what you think the discourse around girlhood is at the moment like do you think girls – is it still all about beauty and submissiveness? Has it changed since you and I were kids? You know where does academic pressure and that striving kind of sit? Do you have any thoughts about the status of girlhood?
CF: I can only really speak to this broadly because I don’t – I think that some things stay the same and then some things adapt themselves to the environment that people are in. From conversations that I’ve had with my younger cousins I feel like certainly in their peer groups they have more conversations about things like sex positivity and making sure that sexuality is equal but at the same time I think that eating disorders are still really common and prevalent. So I’m not really sure that I can give an academic answer to that but I think that what I can say is it hasn’t changed that we live in a culture in which the most prized thing in a woman is her beauty followed by her compliance and I think that that still runs very deep and that there are still – I find it interesting that you say that it was surprising that I would have those same issues and that I could be the kind of feminist that I am now and have a history of that ‘cause I feel like you almost had to have had that kind of past to –
NA: No, I meant for readers, I think readers may have you know come to the book and – but you know you’re so confident, you’re so bolshy, you’re so outspoken. Oh my god, she had all these struggles as a girl so you know maybe it –
CF: But you know the thing is I still have those struggles and for anyone who hasn’t read the book I talk in quite great detail about some eating disorders that I had – just some eating disorders I had – I had anorexia and I had bulimia and I don’t think that the impact of those disorders ever really goes away you know it’s a little bit like being a smoker you know you can quit smoking but you’ll always be a smoker, you can quit drinking alcohol but you’ll always be an alcoholic. And the damage that they do to your psychological state of being, not to mention your physical state of being, is immense you know it’s really, really hard to break through that. But the most surprising thing to me about you know I don’t think I even really verbalised this to myself until I was writing the book, I didn’t even consciously recognise it, was how I could have been in such dire straits and going through such trauma and no one around me knew.
NA: Yeah, I –
CF: No-one picked up on it. They either weren’t looking or – I mean I think it’s probably a combination of that they weren’t looking for it because that stuff happens to other people and also that oh well it’s normal for teenage girls to diet, it’s normal for them to be really controlling and picky about their food, it’s normal for them to care about whether or not they’re thin.
NA: And then also that you were sort of rewarded for –
NA: - losing – well not sort of – yeah.
CF: Look you know I was a plump child and I lost a lot of – I grew up in a family where my mother – I inherited a lot of issues about eating and bodies from my mother who inherited it from her mother so I can’t even blame her for it. She didn’t have anyone unpacking it for her and I had a father who inherited the same issues not for himself but the same ideas about what women should be from his family and when I was talking about it with my aunt who’s my dad’s sister and you know I – none of it is an attack on my parents for what they failed to do but when I was talking about it with my aunt who’s my dad’s sister and I said you know why do you think that family or that side of the family prized women looking this particular way? Because I knew that it was sort of – came from his parents as well and she said well I think that they like a lot of boys were raised to believe that girls should flatter them by being beautiful.
You know that if you – and that made a lot of sense to me that and you know the way that you see some men who are quite obviously revelling in their sexism even today speak about the way that women should look you know there’s a horrible website called return of kings, don’t look it up, it’s just repulsive and it’s just a big troll. But you know they published an article recently that someone sent me that was something like 26 women who were beautiful and then became feminists and there were photos of women who were quite clearly like conventionally sort of conforming to attractive beauty standards. And then women who were like fuck that and they you know hair that they liked and some of them had put on weight, oh my god, putting on weight. And those are examples of men who feel like women only exist to flatter them with their beauty because if a woman is beautiful and she’s around him then he must mean something. So there was all this sort of like you know swirling psychological issues around it. But yeah you know you get rewarded, you lose weight and people say oh you just look so great, isn’t it great that you’ve got such great willpower?
And I think that you know the – like I was saying the fact that it could have happened to the extent that it did where I became so emotionally unwell it wasn't as obvious necessarily physically even though I did lose a lot of weight in a very short period of time when I sort of started to put the weight back on but I didn’t become emotionally better then it was oh well you need to start watching what you’re eating again, you know? So we went from being state of my parents being very worried about me to you’re putting on too much weight now.
NA: And I mean obviously all these experiences of growing up and being a girl you know made you eventually you know political but I’m wondering since you’ve become very political does it help with the emotional and the personal stuff? I mean does that sort of you know can you switch your academic brain on and you know deal with yourself better or – I mean does it help or –
CF: I think –
NA: Having the language –
CF: - that the best thing that – no, I don’t think so because I think that sometimes it can make it seem worse because you have a rational brain that you can attack these issues with but it still doesn’t help you when you’re standing in front of the mirror and poking and prodding at things and saying well I’m a terrible human being because I gave birth to a baby and now I have a podgier tummy than I did before or I’ve got these stretch marks. I mean like I don’t - it’s not like I do that every day you know but everyone has – I think one of the problems is that we talk about these things and we just accept them as being part of life you know oh well all women have terrible body moments, you know, all women have moments where they don’t feel great about their bodies. Isn’t that so sad? Isn’t that sad that all women have that? So actually what helped more with that was – I don't play it anymore but I played rollerderby for about four years and I never grew up playing sports, I think I played softball when I was about nine. But I didn’t come from a family that pushed me into sports, thankfully because I was too self-conscious to play sports and to do PE and all these things but the studies that have been done show that the best way to make girls feel good about themselves and to feel positive about their bodies is to increase their involvement in physical activity. And that’s not so that they can be thin but it’s so that they can look at their body doing something differently.
NA: It’s the strength thing –
NA: - ‘cause I have a little girl and we have to focus a lot on you’re being strong, look at those strong legs, that sort of thing and it’s so empowering.
CF: Yeah and we absorb so much, this message, that our body – that the meaning and the worth comes from our body from how other people look at it, not what we can do with it. And I think that it was playing a sport and particularly a sport like rollerderby where you don’t have to be one set size. It’s not like doing ballet which I always wanted to do when I was a kid and never had any of the right equipment for it. But you know you can be exactly who you are in rollerderby and more importantly as well or perhaps like going along with that it’s a woman-run community and so women get to be in charge of everything and they get to be in control of the message so I think that you know we just vastly underestimate how putting women in charge not just of their bodies but in charge of the way that their bodies can be used and can be – can form part of the narrative is very important. And so that’s sort of - talking more broadly about girlhood that’s what I’d say is probably still in place now, is that girls still feel too much like – there’s nothing really significant that’s been done to challenge the perception that girls’ bodies exist for other people to judge and for other people to own. Yes, we have empowering advertising now but that’s just because capitalism has cottoned on to the fact that feminism sells.
NA: Yeah, I can sell more stuff.
CF: Doesn’t actually really change anything, you know? It’s just – so I think when I was writing particularly those chapters I wanted the young girls who I knew would be reading it to recognise that - I thought I was the only one going through it when I was 13 and I want them to recognise that not only are they not the only ones going through it but that there is so much power and strength to be had from solidarity with other girls over these issues you know that we don’t need to actually look to other people to qualify our existence. We – and that kind of goes a little bit back to this idea of being nice to men in order for feminism to succeed, that we need to have men on board, we need to empower men to be leaders in the feminist movement which is just bullshit. Women need to be –
NA: Need to be leaders.
CF: - leaders in the feminist movement and more importantly than that we need to empower women to recognise that they’re allowed to lead their movement, that they’re allowed to say I don’t need to be nice to you to qualify that I deserve dignity and respect as a human being. And I don’t need to replicate patriarchal structures within this liberation movement in order for you to politely give it to me because what happens when we turn around then and we you know we’ve done that, we’ve gone through the process and we have this illusion of equality and we turn around and we say okay men, can we stop being quite so nice to you now? Can we stop having to applaud every time you say something –
NA: Or ask your permission to be feminists.
CF: Yeah, we’re in exactly the same boat then because no-one’s going to give up that power if they’ve become used to it.
NA: Exactly. Now time’s aticking. We will go to questions in a minute so start preparing yourselves, there will be some mikes on either side. We definitely need you to wait and use the microphone because this is being recorded. I’ll just keep going ‘cause you know I’ve got a lot to ask.
CF: Please do.
NA: But I’m just wondering talking about leadership and women in power can we talk about Hillary Clinton for a little bit ‘cause –
NA: I mean you know –
CF: Such a nasty woman.
NA: Nasty women. We don’t have another hour, we could go for an hour but you know like just riff for me for five minutes on Hillary.
CF: Oh it’s just –
NA: And what it means for girls having seen that happen.
CF: I’d like to preface this by saying that I understand and respect why there are lots of reasons why some women wouldn’t be on board with Hillary Clinton and I do acknowledge and respect that. The reasons why I wanted Hillary Clinton to be President again like I have the luxury and privilege of being able to ignore some of those issues. Or being able to not make myself think about them but at the same time I really have a huge problem with people who argue that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are just as bad as each other. I mean come on.
NA: It’s unfathomable, really.
CF: We have a situation, whether or not you respect her individual politics, whether or not you think that you know she’s hawkish or whatever it might be, just looking at it purely on the face of things this was realistically the most experienced candidate to ever have run for President in the United States. And again like you could totally oppose her politics and still recognise that to be true.
NA: If we’re talking about merit.
CF: Yeah. First there’s – like I’ve described him recently, a balloon animal you know he – this man is – it’s the most qualified candidate versus the least qualified candidate and it’s not the least qualified candidate in the sense that he’s rogue and you know like he came and he was outside of the system, he’s a cowboy you know but he’s got some great ideas and he’s going to go in there and really shake up Washington for the better. No, of course not, I mean I just feel like it’s just so – it’s such a classic example of how you can try and try and try as hard as you want as a woman, you can – she ate shit for three decades you know and maybe her ambition at the start was to become President but people speak about that as if she should be ashamed of that somehow or she’s just always wanted to be President. Wow like what an awful person, you know?
CF: Like any other man who grew up to be President didn’t want to be President when he was a kid you know or wasn’t just handed it like in the case of George Bush, George W Bush. You know like the fact that she was so qualified and she worked so much harder than everyone else and then she still couldn’t get it, it’s still – and you know yes, white women were a big part of that problem you know that there is a huge problem in women internalising not just misogyny but embracing racism because they want to feel – whatever they feel like they lack in power in their own life they want to exert over the people that culture tells them that they’re allowed to exert control over. Or they want to feel like they’re protected somehow by supporting a patriarchal structure because they can be the official woman within it. You know so the fact that she is now – it was her race to lose and people say well you know she was the worst candidate for them to put up. Shut up, she was not, she was the best candidate for the Democrats to put up. She didn’t lose the election, we know that she won the popular vote, we know that she got the second-highest amount of votes of any president in recorded history aside from Obama. And you know that comparison that people make between her and Bernie Sanders you know people who supported Bernie Sanders speaking almost as if Hillary should have just politely sat down and given it to him.
NA: Bernie’s here now so you can –
CF: But you know she should have just given it to Bernie because people wanted Bernie. Well clearly not all of the people wanted Bernie and those that – and I get so frustrated and angry thinking about people saying well if Bernie Sanders had been the candidate he would have won. And that may be true because maybe the people who wanted Bernie so badly that they protest-voted against Hillary Clinton. She didn’t get those votes but - I could be wrong here but I feel like the people who didn’t get their candidate in Hillary, far fewer of them would have protest-voted against Bernie Sanders, they would have said no, the alternative is Donald Trump and that is a nightmare so let’s vote for Bernie. You know so this – the people who were like well Hillary’s not going to get it, blah, blah, blah like most of the classic example of the white Bernie brough and I know that that’s a reductive term, I know that some people feel very insulted by that but they’re not going to be the ones who are affected by a Trump presidency you know they can sit there and make their little protest and have their little whinge. And it’s – they don’t even want to acknowledge that there’s sexism underpinning that because they don’t want to acknowledge that in the left we can be troubled by those same issues.
NA: It’s sort of you know ‘50s Communist you know Communism sexism arguments all over again you know like what do the women do? Oh yeah, we’re all equal except you know the women are out cooking.
CF: Well it’s the same problem that feminism has in terms of the white feminist argument of we need to just get a general kind of equality and then equality for everyone else will fall into place after that which is obviously rubbish, you don’t aspire for equality to the people who are privileged most within an oppressed system because why on earth would they get what they want and then work hard to fix what’s beneath? And we have to work from the ground up because that’s the only way that – nothing trickles down, with –
NA: I know, it’s like we should have realised that, we’ve not realised that.
CF: You know you build things up, you don’t trickle down.
NA: One more tiny Hillary thing, you wrote a great column about now is the time to stop being the good girl and I mean is she actually going to turn into the nasty woman like turning up for the inauguration being so fucking gracious, it’s like can she stop? Will she stop? What do you -
CF: Well you know the other thing that – poor Hillary, the other thing is that now people are kvetching about her because she’s not doing enough to protest the Trump administration. Where’s Hillary gone? They’re saying, you know?
NA: It’s like give the girl a break, having a wine and a bit of a lie down, I think.
CF: Honestly I just really don’t feel like a man would be targeted with the same – people generally would accept that he had tried, it hadn’t worked out and now why should he have to turn up and do anything else? You know the people didn’t want him but Hillary’s still expected to - and she can’t win either way you know she didn’t turn up to the inauguration then people would have talked about how she was just a stroppy whiney little baby girl who – and it’s a good thing that she didn’t become President, you know? I just feel like beyond the political thing and again beyond anyone’s particular political opposition to her I just feel really tired and heartbroken at what it all represents.
NA: Yeah, I must say I was kind of glad that my daughter is not a bit older and didn’t you know doesn’t really kind of understand the impact ‘cause I think yeah, if you’re a bit older and watching that and hoping a bit like you know with Julia Gillard like how – it’s devastating.
NA: Anyway enough about me and my child. We’ve got questions, we’ve got 10 minutes more or less for questions so I saw a hand go up there and there was one next door, there’s one there and so yes, the woman standing up in the green, you’re first.
CF: While she’s doing that mike I’ll just very quickly say that one of the frustrating things that I kept coming across when Julia Gillard was being you know bombarded by terrible misogyny was people saying oh well get over it you know all prime ministers, all people in leadership are attacked, people attacked John Howard’s eyebrows. You’re like okay, making fun of John Howard’s eyebrows is pretty different to Larry Pickering drawing pornographic images of Julia Gillard and people don’t understand that it’s not that people are saying that she doesn’t deserve criticism, it’s the method with which you criticise you know you can’t – if you are using language that you wouldn't use against a man then you need to be using a different language.
NA: The deeply gendered nature, the violent kind of words that are used, I mean all the time like if you know people are attacking you or other prominent feminists or heads of state –
CF: I mean if it’s a genuine legitimate attack there are different words that you can use, make an intellectual attack, you know? You don’t even – it doesn’t even need to be a superior intellectual attack like you can be base about it, I’ve called some people some pretty base names but just make sure that it’s not something that relies on their gender to be the humiliating point.
A: Thank you. Just to give a tiny bit of background, we had an election last year in October and one of the candidates, a male in that election used the Tinder app to campaign for himself in the election so I have two questions in relation to that. One is if it was a woman using a dating app to try and campaign in an election what do you think the response would be? And secondly, what is the appropriateness of a white middle class male using a dating app to try and gain votes? Tinder as most people would know is mostly a heterosexual dating site.
CF: I think it’s very obvious what the response would be if a woman was using a dating app to get votes so I don’t even feel like I need to answer that in great detail, I think that she would be likened to a sex worker and obviously the discussion around sex work is – it wouldn’t have been a positive comparison despite the fact that you know it’s like that whole - that old adage that people love to point with one finger and jerk off with the other you know they get titillated by sex work and I think that sex work is a completely legitimate profession, by the way, I don’t mean to denigrate sex workers but people love to shame sex workers while also using the services. And I’d think that that’s – well did he win?
CF: He won.
CF: Well of course they did, of course they did because it just shows you know get up and go and ingenuity from a man, doesn’t it? I think it’s sleazy and gross and I don’t think it’s something necessarily that I would – it’s not something that offends me more than other things, I’m not like super-offended by it, I just think it’s a bit sleazy and I don’t know, I would struggle to take that man seriously. Enough said.
NA: Now there was another one quite close to our first questioner and then I believe there was one down here, just – oh Anya’s got the mike, that’s excellent, so you can go next.
A: Thank you for a most interesting discussion so far.
CF: So far, oh I could ruin it.
NA: Yeah, watch out.
CF: I’ve got 10 minutes.
A: I haven’t finished my question. I come as a – perspective as midwife and I’m interested to talk about the feminist sort of attitudes towards pregnancy in particular and I think that not one of us would want to have any of the antidiscrimination laws changed in any way in terms of employment of pregnant woman or continuing employment of pregnant women however I do feel that pregnant women are a vulnerable – it’s a vulnerable time in your life and it would be really nice if there was some sort of compensation socially or some sort of acknowledgement of the incredible time this is in a woman’s life.
NA: Midwives, generally, yeah.
CF: Just for the audio I am bowing down. What’s your name?
CF: Patricia. Firstly I think that the work that you do is amazing, I love midwives, I think it’s an incredible job, the – of course - because it’s a predominantly female industry of course it’s not respected greatly or – well it’s probably respected but it’s not considered that hard. And I went through a midwifery program at hospital so I only dealt with midwives and I just think that you’re just magical human beings so thank you for the work that you do. Pregnancy made me if it was possible an even stronger feminist than I already was because I had this idea sort of like I had an intellectual idea of the impact that pregnancy had on a woman’s life but I had no idea of what it actually – the toll it actually took and I had terrible prenatal anxiety that was you know I write about it in the book – that was hugely challenging and devastating in lots of ways. And I came up against a lot of frustration and fury about how primarily woman, and I say that because of course not everyone who has a baby identifies as a woman, but in the large part it is women who perform that service and it’s also - generally speaking it’s – of course it’s an oppressed role because it’s largely expected to be done by women.
The enormity of that job in providing the next generation of people, and you know I’m not saying that like humanity deserves to survive so I don’t think that it’s an incredible job because you know we all need to be working hard to create the next generations but society relies on a new generation, traditional conservative society relies on the creation of new taxpayers and women do this job, they grow the baby, they birth the baby, they perform the vast majority in most cases of that baby’s primary care and of the primary care of the child. Like I said even if you’re in a very supportive relationship it’s still never going to be 50/50 because it just can’t be as special in the early days and we’re all – we make it so easy for it not to be. And yet there’s no acknowledgement you know mothers are sneered at - mothers working are sneered at and mothers staying at home are sneered at and motherhood is perceived to be this incredibly easy job. Well what do you do all day? Oh I’d love to have a six-month holiday from work. I’m at work today on holiday and I just feel like once again it’s an example of how very different things would be if women were not even in charge of things but if women were allowed to participate at a 50% level of leadership.
If women’s experiences and women’s leadership was respected and sought out and women’s histories were acknowledged then we’d have a very different attitude to that because I do think that we need to have a much different approach to parenthood in Australia and in the west in particular in that you know it’s not normal or right for people to be sent home with a baby and that baby just to be with one person, the mother you know it’s not – that is not a healthy situation because it’s so challenging and so difficult and really brutal in lots of ways and that’s not how animals work you know we need to have people around us who support. You know this idea that somehow we all live as part of a community but – and it should take a village to raise a child but oh well you had the child so you should deal with it.
NA: You deal with it.
CF: You know why should I have to pay for you to have a child? Why should my tax dollars have to pay for you to have a child? Because your mother had you and raised you and other people back then would have been assisting in some way you know it’s just – I feel like that could be a whole other hour of conversation so I don’t want to get too stuck into it but feminism and motherhood are inextricable for me.
NA: And it – like you said it’s – yeah, it really opens your eyes, doesn’t it? Once you do have kids to a whole lot of other stuff but just the nub of that question about you know asking for equality and I still want to have my job and I’m pregnant and da, da, da but then acknowledging that well maybe I am a bit vulnerable and maybe I am a bit you know whatever while I’m pregnant, how do we hold those two things together, do you think?
CF: I think that there needs to be a lot more honesty about what pregnancy is and you know when you talk about reproductive healthcare rights and the abortion debate it shouldn’t even be a debate you know it’s a woman’s body, she should be able to do whatever she wants with it. And I really think that for a lot of people you know we know that the legislature is dominated by men and that people who are opposed to abortion in the majority are men and cisgender men who are never going to have babies. I think that they really conceive of pregnancy as being this is my body and on top of this body is a bump and the baby just kind of grows in this sort of pouch on the front of me and –
NA: Slip it off.
CF: - oh and they complain about morning sickness and they get those funny cravings but they don’t actually recognise how that whole process of growing the baby isn’t just physical and it’s not just emotional, it’s like their DNA and your DNA are melded and you can’t explain – I really resist those ideas that you need to have a baby to understand what love is. It’s a different kind of love but having had that experience it’s profound, I found it to be profound and I think that there’s so much pressure on us as you said, Patricia, to be strong and I can still do everything, I can do it all. And I’m having to be in the situation now where I’m starting to realise that I can’t do it all, I can’t – which isn’t to say that I can’t have it all but I can’t do it all and nor should I have to do it all. Me being able to be in control of the childrearing shouldn’t be the price that I pay for being able to work you know like I shouldn’t have to prove that I’ve got everything under control in order for me to be allowed to go back to the workplace. But workplaces also need to recognise that you know it’s this whole idea as well, if we fight for equality within the structures that already exist then we will never actually be liberated. We might achieve equality within those structures for some people but we won’t achieve liberation.
Whereas if we actually work as a community, and it will be very hard – of course it’s going to be hard, it’s going to take decades to do and it will be a slow process but if we actually try to dismantle things and recreate them with input not just from – because those structures have been created by white men in the majority so they serve white men, they serve patriarchy and they serve white supremacy and people can only squabble for equality within them. But if we actually try and recreate a community and a culture and a society that is contributed to by a diverse group of people where everyone has a say and everyone’s needs are recognised then we would have situations in which women’s work, not just in the domestic capacity, was valued and was sought. But they would allow for the domestic work to meld with that and not just for women to do but for men to do as well you know that if women were able to work out of the home and men were encouraged to work in the home and we have more of a communal attitude to everything we could have a vastly different society and one that was actually so much more enjoyable for everyone to live in.
CF: And maybe we would actually yield even better results. I think we probably would.
NA: I’m with you. Have –
NA: I’m getting the windup, I’m so sorry. Clementine will be signing books out in the foyer so you’ll have a chance to ask some questions, have a chat, chat with each other. You’ve been an amazing audience and thank you so much.
KF: Unfortunately we have run out of time tonight but thank you, Clementine and Nikki, for sharing with us your insights and your discussions this evening. As Nikki said Clementine has kindly agreed to sign copies of Fight Like a Girl upstairs in the foyer tonight. The book’s available at our bookshop with a 10% discount, a special for you tonight.
Events such as these ones rely on the support of Australia's publishers so I thank Deb from Allen and Unwin for making it possible for Clementine to visit the Library and for supporting our events program throughout the year. We have an exciting program of events coming up over the remainder of the summer period. Next Monday evening you might like to join us with Kate Grenfell as she discusses her latest book, The Case Against Fragrance with Gia Metherell. And on Tuesday Julian Schultz, Editor of Griffith Review, discusses the economic, social, environmental and cultural challenges facing South Australia with Angela Woollacott, Chris Wallace and Peter Stanley. Perhaps you’d both like to come back for that one.
So thank you for joining us tonight and please join me again in thanking Clementine and Nikki. Thank you both.
CF: Thank you all.
CF: Thank you, sorry, I talk so much.
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