Hey, so apparently I’m one of Australia’s up and coming feminist icons! No really, in all seriousness, thank you to SBS for including me in their International Women’s Day 2016 feature. It was an honour to be asked and genuinely flattering (humbling? I’m terrible with English emotion terms!) to feature alongside such inspiring, admirable women.
Below are some of the interview questions and answers in more detail followed by an addendum of sorts.
What do you think the biggest challenges we face for feminism in Australia in 2016 are?
Any further exclusionary narrowing of Australian feminism, which is already very much dominated by white, largely middle-class, cisgender, heterosexual women, would be of great concern and a retrograde step for feminism in Australia. While this exclusionary narrowing is surely partly the result of the media and their focus on individual voices who are, with few exceptions, white, middle-class, cis-hetero women, it is also a true reflection of the state of mainstream feminism in Australia today – which is far, far, far from intersectional.
Intersectionality is challenging and messy, but it is essential if we want to move forward with a truly inclusive feminist movement here in Australia. It is challenging because it often means being critically self-reflexive, de-centring one’s own experience and concerns, identifying and acknowledging one’s own relative privilege, and – if you’re doing it right – often shutting up and allowing others to speak and tell you ‘how it is’ for them … and then taking all this on board as an integral part of feminist process and practice (without getting defensive or giving in to the urge to ‘contribute’ i.e. interrupt, derail and re-centre one’s own experience/opinions/concerns). It is messy in the sense that it doesn’t provide or present a ‘united front’ which, as feminists, we’re often told that we should present. But so what? This expectation is a form of respectability politics that cannot possibly accommodate diversity and the dynamics of a truly inclusive feminist movement anyway.
Who do you think will be up and coming feminist voices, the next generation?
Who I think will be the next up and coming feminist voices of the next generation is quite different, unfortunately, from who I think should be. What to say, other than: I hope that those Australian feminists with a platform learn to pass the mic and listen rather than talking or writing ‘on behalf of’ others whose position or experience they do not share.
Also: big ups to social media and the decentralised, unfiltered platform it provides!
Up until this point in my life I’d always just assumed that the people who know me know that I identify as a feminist (and have done so for most of my adult life). However, this piece caused ripples of surprise and curiosity among those I wouldn’t have expected it from, and then came questions that I didn’t expect either. All this was a good reminder that: a) I live in a bit of a bubble; b) I really do need to get out more, and; c) No, Bree, not all the people you know follow you on all the social platforms that you inhabit all the time. This prompted me to write an afterword or addendum, posted on social media, which I’ve reproduced below.
I felt like I should write this afterword of sorts given the love and support I’ve been shown by family re: being publicly identified as ‘A Feminist’ and because I feel like a jerk having been quoted in part-academese which is itself, elitist and exclusionary. So this is a really brief overview of what I think feminism is and is not.
What feminism is not:
Feminism and feminists are not a ‘thing’. Feminism is a shared set of understandings and beliefs that are both moral and political in nature.
Feminism is not about hating men. Shocking but true! In fact, it’s only *about* men insofar as they are integral to the oppression and therefore liberation of people who don’t identify as men.
Feminism is not sexist, unless you think that combating discrimination and unequal power relations is somehow ‘sexist’, which actually just doesn’t make sense.
Feminism is not about lesbians. You may laugh, but this is actually a common association that people make. People of *all* sexual orientations can be, and are, feminists.
Feminism is most definitely *not* about women policing women. In fact, one of the central tenets of feminism is that women should not see and/or treat each other as competition.
Feminism is not about anger or aggression. Well, not necessarily, but with the slow rate of progress and the poop that we have to put up with, anger is completely understandable and justified in my opinion.
Feminism is not inherently or necessarily antagonistic. It only appears so when it comes up against persistent instances or forms of sexism, prejudice or discrimination – when it comes up against resistance to change.
So what is feminism?
Feminism is about identifying and addressing gender inequality. Feminism is ‘a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, personal, and social rights for women.’ The thing is, though, it’s not just ‘for women’. It’s also for people who don’t identify as *cisgender men or women. In this sense it’s also about addressing oppressive institutions like the gender binary, which tells people they can only be either a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’, but nothing in between, outside, or beyond this limiting binary. Gender is a spectrum and the way people identify is diverse, and that’s more than okay – that’s just the way it is and that’s all kinds of wonderful.
Which brings me to intersectionality. Feminism is rubbish unless it is intersectional in my opinion. Intersectionality acknowledges that forms and patterns of discrimination/prejudice/oppression/inequality within society, such as those based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, class, disability, etc. do not exist independently of one another, but are *interrelated* and create a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination/prejudice/oppression/inequality. Someone who identifies as a gay, black woman, for example, is going to experience different, intersecting forms of discrimination/prejudice/oppression/inequality to me because I’m white and I’m not gay. Comparatively, I’m in a position of privilege in relation to these axes of identity. I need to acknowledge that and take it into account. Feminism that is not intersectional actually just reproduces various sites or axes of discrimination/prejudice/oppression/inequality, and that is both inconsistent and hypocritical.
Feminism is just as concerned with everyday instances or forms of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia etc. in day to day interactions as it is with structural inequality and the reproduction of oppressive institutions through time. (Structural inequality being, ‘a condition where one category of people are attributed an unequal status in relation to other categories of people. This relationship is perpetuated and reinforced by a confluence of unequal relations in roles, functions, decisions, rights, and opportunities.’) Feminism is just as concerned with microaggressions as it is with employment and salary statistics.
Feminism is about being inclusive. Feminism is about not being jerks to one another and not allowing other people to be jerks to each other too. Feminism is about the wonderous potential of human relations outside and beyond the oppressive institutions that exist today. Feminism is about respect. Feminism is hot as fuck. Feminism is bae.
And you know what? Feminists are just people, and we’re as vulnerable as we are strong. That’s why we need to stick together, support each other and spread the word.
To the menz out there: feminism is not just for your female friends, your daughters, sisters and wives. It’s for everyone.
In my mind everyone and anyone who is not a cisgender man should be a feminist. And all cisgender men should be actively pro-feminist.
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I don’t know why I haven’t written more about feminism on here before, actually. (Who knows, perhaps I shall start.)