Rewriting the story: The power of feminist narrative

As the daughter of a staunch feminist, I genuinely expected to grow up into a culture where gender equality had been achieved – or, at least, that it would be a lot closer. Instead, in 2018, women in Australia are still likely to be paid 15.3% less than their male colleagues, to be discriminated against at work (especially after pregnancy), to suffer from sexual harassment, to be the victims of violence, and to end their lives in poverty.

And, as Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has noted, ‘women who experience intersectional inequality often experience higher rates of [discrimination and] violence, and face additional barriers to seeking help and support’.

Given all this, it would be reasonable to ask why I spend my spare time running a feminist writers festival? Aren’t books and writing somewhat trivial concerns when compared to Australia’s shocking rates of domestic violence or coming ‘tsunami of homeless older women’? It’s a fair point, but I’d argue just the opposite. Both are actually central to shaping the narratives that we tell ourselves about our culture, our heroes, and ourselves.

… Read the rest over at Broad Agenda.

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#MeToo exposes legal failures, but ‘trial by Twitter’ isn’t one of them

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In a 2016 ABS survey, one in two women reported having experienced sexual harassment, but 90% of them did not contact the police. – Cindy Zhi/The Conversation NY-BD-CC

Cristy Clark, Southern Cross University

Six months after the explosive allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein came to light, giving impetus to the #MeToo movement, this series looks at the aftermath of the movement, and if it has brought about lasting change to sexual harassment and gender equality.


Critics have raised concerns that #MeToo has turned into a “trial by Twitter”, suggesting it has turned the legal principle of innocent until proven guilty on its head. The Australian’s opinion columnist Janet Albrechtsen argued this point on the ABC’s #MeToo Q&A special last month.

But such comments reveal an ignorance of the meaning and context of this principle. Leaving aside the fact that some people on social media side with the accused, public discussion – whether it takes place on Twitter or around a water cooler – is not comparable to state punishment.

Those concerned about the failure of a legal principle in relation to #MeToo might better focus on that of justice for victims.

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Deveny’s ‘financial abortion’ is a form of coercive control

I wrote an article for Overland in response to a recent article by Catherine Deveny supporting a right to so-called ‘financial abortions’ for men.

Deveny argues that men should have the opportunity to ‘opt out’ of fatherhood if a woman ‘chooses’ to continue with a pregnancy against his preferences. The fact that so many men already get away with washing their hands of any parental responsibility – including the payment of child support – is apparently not enough. Deveny is seeking to both formalise and legitimise this existing practice.

So what is the problem? Isn’t this a natural extension of being pro-choice? Shouldn’t women have to take responsibility for their choices?

In a word: no.

Dissenting feminisms: reflections on the Feminist Writers Festival

Reflecting on the recent Feminist Writers Festival, I wrote an article for Overland online about the ongoing tensions within the feminist movement and some of the lessons that I learned from the experience of establishing FWF:

So what have I taken away from all this? First, we need to become even better at listening to each other. This might not always be a comfortable experience – it might be challenging or even boring – but it is an essential foundation for moving forward together as a movement. Second, we need to be willing to learn from our mistakes and, perhaps more importantly, we need to give each other permission to make them. Only then can we risk making ourselves vulnerable enough to really grow and stretch our capacities.

Lactivism – a review

I was recently asked to review Courtney Jung’s book, Lactivism, for the Alternative Law Journal. While I appreciated much of the nuanced critique of American neoliberal social policy and the penalty that it imposes on mothers under the guise of individual ‘choice’ (an issue that is also very relevant to Australia), ultimately I wasn’t convinced by the central premise of the book – that ‘Lactivists’ (rather than neoliberal governance) are the real culprits in this situation.

My full review can be found here.

Announcing the 2016 Feminist Writers Festival

This week I was so excited to see a long-held dream start to become a reality when I joined with a fabulous group of women from around Australia to launch the 2016 Feminist Writers Festival in partnership with the Melbourne Writers Festival. The festival will be held in Melbourne on 26-28 August and will bring together feminist writers and readers to connect and strengthen the diverse writing communities that exist around Australia.

Our hope is that the festival will expand the themes and voices around feminism and women’s writing by offering a space for critical engagement and practical support for all feminist writers and readers. I hope you’ll come!

The day I bought my son ‘beautiful gold shoes’

I have an article up on Essential Kids about the challenges of raising our son to be free of the constraining effects of gender stereotypes.

I’m driving to the shops with my four-year-old to buy a pair of ‘beautiful gold shoes’. He desperately wants a pair just like his big sister’s.

When we find them – a pair of sparkly gold slippers with fluffy white bows – I wait for the sales assistant to say something. She does double-check that they are actually for him, but then appears to swallow her objection and smiles nervously. I breathe a sigh of relief. He has a lifetime to deal with the weight of other people’s gender issues; he doesn’t need to hear them now.

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Feminism and the terrifying dependency of children

For Australian women of my generation, many issues of structural gender inequality can seem far removed from their daily experiences and, thus, difficult to relate to. Many civil rights, which were only recently (and only partially) achieved, are easily taken for granted when you have grown up assuming access to them. For this reason, it is not uncommon for women to feel shocked when confronted the ongoing reality of structural inequality when they become mothers and they suddenly find themselves falling into gendered roles and suffering from gendered disadvantage as a result. Given this fact, it is a shame that the dominant form of feminism in Australia – liberal feminism – does not deal particularly well with the structural inequalities faced by mothers.

Liberal feminism has failed to adequately respond to the realities of motherhood, because it has primarily focused on helping women to overcome their historic status as second-class citizens by becoming independent. This vision of equality has led to the struggle for a range of positive measures for women, including:

  • the rights to education, to work and to receive equal pay;
  • the right own property;
  • the right to participate in public life by voting and running for political office; and
  • the right to bodily autonomy, including the right to refuse to consent to sex and to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

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In defence of mummy blogging

This post was originally published at Larvatus Prodeo.

Six years ago I stopped blogging here at LP because I became a mother for the first time and suddenly the style of discourse that dominated here became jarring. Newly immersed into the constant and somewhat shocking demands of motherhood, I found it impossible to engage in the combative debates that were par for the course here at LP. So I retired to my personal blog, which rapidly morphed into what is now so charmingly described as a ‘mummy blog.’

On a personal level this so-called ‘mummy blog’ of mine did a lot for me. It helped me to connect to other people (mostly women, it must be said) who were experiencing the transition into parenthood in similar ways to me. It helped me to fight off the crushing isolation of the early months of my daughter’s life, when I knew so few other young parents and had few reasons to leave the house. It also helped me to gain confidence in my own approach to mothering, and to discover that what I was experiencing was quite normal and would get easier with time. For me these benefits were an absolute lifeline and I shudder to think of how I would have coped with out them.

However, so-called ‘mummy blogging’ is not a purely personal endeavour. Despite the gleeful mocking of ‘serious bloggers’ and ‘hilarious male columnists’ the issues explored by ‘mummy bloggers’ are often highly political. For many women of my generation, motherhood is a time when we are confronted with the full force of patriarchy and the seemingly insurmountable challenge of maintaining equality in our relationships, let alone within society, after becoming mothers. The shift in dynamics begins with the vulnerability of pregnancy, when our bodies suddenly seem to become public property and we are thrust into a medical system that strips us of our rights and treats as like children. It continues as many of us take time away from the paid workforce to care for our children and find the dynamics of our relationships changing as a result. For those of us who breastfeed, the public desire to control our bodies rolls over from pregnancy and continues with the ever-helpful social pressure to breastfeed our babies for the arbitrarily determined length of time that Western culture sees as necessary, while ensuring at all times that we do it in a manner than inconveniences and (most importantly) offends no-one (i.e. at home).

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Transgressive breastfeeding and the rules of the public sphere

In case you missed it, there has been some controversy in Australia over the last few days over the issue of public breastfeeding.

A mum in Queensland was breastfeeding her baby at a public pool while supervising her two elder children. A staff member approached her to say that another family had complained, because they were offended by her breastfeeding. She then asked her to move to a private area of the pool or cover up. The mother, rightly, refused and said that this demand was illegal discrimination. Nonetheless, the pool attendant insisted and so the mother ended up taking her three children and leaving the pool in tears.

On Friday, a morning television show, Sunrise, decided that it would be a great idea to debate the issue of whether breastfeeding in public is offensive and whether the pool did the right thing. [As an aside: do we often debate whether someone breaking the law and discriminating against another person did the right thing? Why is this OK when it comes to breastfeeding women?] One of the hosts of the show, David Koch (or Kochie, as he is apparently called), expressed the opinion that the pool had done the right thing and that if women are going to breastfeed in public then they ought to “be classy about it.” Later on Twitter, he explained that it was “just common courtesy” to “be discreet” when breastfeeding.

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