Last week I had the privilege of hearing Clementine Ford speak at the Brisbane Avid reader launch of her new book – Fight Like a Girl
The room was packed and the energy was palpable. Clementine was succinct, unpretentious and unapologetic. She got to the heart of the matter in her no-nonsense, comedic and completely accessible way.
One of the few men in attendances was Paul Barclay of ABC radio’s big ideas. He was a polished and empathetic host, letting Ford take the lead. But even with Paul’s subtle and self-deprecating approach, it would have made so much more sense to have a female host. No doubt the lack of a prominent female voice that could reach a larger audience via her ideas-based radio show is indicative of the issues Clementine is so passionate about.
I have just finished Clementine’s book. Her thoughts articulated my own vague frustrations about the structures we work in and against. We have something that looks like equality but it’s entirely on someone else’s terms. Through a lot of hard, women have finally been granted a seat at the table. But it has come with a long list of conditions. You can sit at our table (if there is room), but you play by our rules (that suit us better than you) and you must never, ever complain (because it’s really very nice of us to have you here). As a well-educated, cisgender, middle class woman, I have access to that table even if I resent the conditions attached to my seat. Many people (clearly not just women) do not and won’t until the system completely changes.
I tend to read a few books at a time, and I read Fight like a Girl alongside Boy, Lost by Kristina Olsson. It’s a personal memoir based on a family history, but set against a wider backdrop of a time in Australia when children were all too often stolen away from their mothers. Those mothers may have been indigenous, unmarried, poor or any other crime against the patriarchy. The system colluded in favour of those who assumed they knew best. Even amidst clear individual suffering, the system steam-rolled on. It’s hard to understand how on earth this could have occurred. And I hope that in the future my own boys will look back at the current attitudes of victim-blaming, shocking rates of domestic violence and the micro-agressions so many people face on a daily basis and wonder exactly the same thing.
But of course we won’t get there without action. Ford’s book is big on that. The main one is just standing up and saying “this isn’t okay.” As a mother of boys, I acutely feel my role to grow decent men, who understand and support equality for everyone. Who understand that may mean sacrifice and real action on their own part. Clementine is understandably angry about initiatives that place men as heroes of awareness and champions of change, without doing anything constructive.
Parts of Clementine’s book talk to body image, self-loathing and how to get out of patterns learned in early adolesence. Perhaps I was just incredibly lucky but I never went through the same hate levelled at my body. Oh, I wished for boobs and height before late puberty modestly delivered both but I was never at war with myself over looks. I can attribute that positive body image to my own mother. I don’t remember her ever making negative comments about her body when I was a young girl. As an adult, sure, but she was incredibly careful with her example when it mattered most. She never shirked from calling herself a feminist. Was always talking about raising “strong, feminist girls”. It’s only in retrospect that I realise how grateful I am for that. I hope to emulate that positive attitude with my own boys and the girls within my circle.
After Clementine’s talk I didn’t feel like heading home straight away. I headed down the narrow Bowen Hill streets towards the Valley for a quick dinner with myself for company. There was no fear as I walked along those streets. At the restaurant I sat alone and was perfectly okay with that. No-one approached me or made me feel uncomfortable and I actually had a truly lovely time. But I realise that I represent such a narrow section of the female community in being able to exercise that seemingly simple freedom without any real thought. I want to play my part in widening it.