Clementine Ford, Feminism and Fight like a Girl

fight like a girlLast 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.

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Have you read Fight Like a Girl?
What did you think?

28 thoughts on “Clementine Ford, Feminism and Fight like a Girl

  1. Deborah says:

    I haven’t read it and must admit I’m not a fan of non-fiction. I don’t know why. I think I’d listen to an audiobook but I struggle to read it.

    One thing I miss about Brisbane are those bigger author events and the like… not much here on the Fraser Coast I’m afraid!
    Deborah recently posted…Cat’s in the CradleMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      It would be a great audio book read by Clementine. I tend to have a non-fiction and a fiction on the go together. Boy, Lost is non-fiction but written in such a beautiful, narrative way that it felt more like a “story”.

  2. Dani @ sand has no home says:

    I really must read her book. It would be nice to have something, to read something without the comments section that is always so distracting and disturbing on her Facebook page or newspaper articles. I read Boy, Lost last year too. It showed that we have come a long way, but you are right, what we stand for today is not an acceptable status quo.
    Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    • Robyna says:

      It is nice to read it away from all the distraction, but there are some chapters that do read a little like a Facebook rant. But that’s just her style and it does demonstrate the obvious anger she feels.

  3. Emily says:

    Fabulous review. I bought this on the weekend and can’t wait to read it. I also bought Rosie Batty’s A Mother’s Story and both can’t wait and am dreading reading that.
    I’ve admired Ford for a long time. Because I’m yet to get to that totally-honestly-doesn’t-care-what-anyone-thinks-of-her-or-if-men-care-about-what-she’s-saying stage. She cops the brunt of the worst men have to offer so that there’s a shining example for us all. And she doesn’t do it to be a hero. She does it because someone has to.
    And I read Boy, Lost last year. Hits you in the guts, right? Brilliant book. Olsson is a fabulous author. I read it after hearing her talk at a session on grief at a writers festival. So. Many. Tears.

    • Robyna says:

      Boy, Lost is just beautiful – going to book club tonight to discuss and Olsson is going to be there! Clementine has definitely had to develop a really thick skin. I couldn’t do it.

    • Robyna says:

      We really are lucky, and I personally feel very lucky that I haven’t experienced anything that would cause me to be fearful and take that opportunity away. I know there are plenty of women (in Australia also) that don’t feel comfortable being alone because of their past experiences. Which is awful.

  4. Hugzilla says:

    Holy shit man, I love that paragraph about our seat at the table, and the conditions attached to that seat – what a searingly precise metaphor. And, like you I cringed when you first mentioned the host for the evening. My first thought was WTF did they choose a man for? Seriously. FFS. I am reading this at the moment, and loving every word.

    • Robyna says:

      Isn’t it great? Before kids I really didn’t see the issue with the conditions attached to the corporate table but after kids they became much clearer – and they don’t just limit mothers but anyone who doesn’t fit into a very narrow stereotype.

    • Robyna says:

      I’m so glad. I think your girls will like it too when they are a bit older. My friend says she is collecting quite a library for her girls!

  5. Kez @ Awesomely Unprepared says:

    I can’t wait to read this book! I remember that I used to think Clementine was quite ‘extreme’ and she challenged me. I’ve always considered myself a feminist but I didn’t realise just how much systemic/socially ingrained sexism I had been taught to not even notice. She’s opened my eyes to a lot through her social media posts and articles. Now I think she’s an absolute legend and I am glad I was challenged. I know once I read her book, I’ll be even more feisty than I am now (in a good way)! x
    Kez @ Awesomely Unprepared recently posted…Kez Gets Physical: Back to healthy habits. Again!My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I think we need the Clementine Ford’s of the world to point out the unfair things that we have simply become used to and are painting as normal.

  6. Cat@lifethroughthehaze says:

    It is on my list of reads but not at the top. I am a bit frustrated with feminism at the moment and the way everyone (particularly other women) is telling women what to think and how to be. I need to come to terms with my own feminism and firm up my views and understanding before I read it I think though.
    I do like Clem Ford even if she does go about things differently to me lol xoxo
    Cat@lifethroughthehaze recently posted…the day my brain and body disconnectedMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      Yes, I can totally understand that. I found the Beauty Myth a little difficult for that reason – because I don’t feel like I am into fashion or beauty due to a direction from men, but rather as a fun thing to share with other women. I don’t find it at odds with feminism, but I know some people do.

  7. Bec @ Seeing the Lighter Side says:

    Oh I love this post so much. We need radical systemic change to achieve true equality. The recent rise of the conservatives globally frightens me – it feels life we’re on the verge of going backwards. Events like the mass protests in Poland and the death of the gay marriage plebiscite give me hope though.

    • Robyna says:

      I think (hope) there is just a wider divergence of opinion bubbling up because change is occurring. I hope what we are seeing is just push back, not an indication of going backwards.

  8. Karin @ Calm to Conniption says:

    I have got Fight Like A Girl on my to read list and am enjoying reading people’s reviews as they pop up. Reading about you going to lunch by yourself has been really good for me. Tomorrow night I am heading into and out of the city by myself and it has been so long since I have that I am a little bit peaking! Something that I did so often is now tainted with fear by the news and a handful of years at home.
    Karin @ Calm to Conniption recently posted…The New Way We HolidayMy Profile

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