I reckon I was about 15 when I first started to engage with women’s rights and the feminist movement. I can’t remember what drew me to it, but at some point I read Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, and I was totally enraged and drawn in. At 15, you feel terrible physically – and you’re under so much pressure to conform to these abstract beautify standards, and feel like you never quite cut it. I remember reading that book and feeling like we had all been jibbed. Naomi Wolf gave me permission to question all the expectations I had learnt there were on women.
I grew up in a country town, so women weren’t always leading the charge. Usually they were staying home and cooking, while men went to work –but really, women took responsibility for just about everything and did all the legwork without being recognised for it. Men would occasionally do a bit of BBQ-ing, but that was about it.
I always thought – surely there’s gotta be more than this? And The Beauty Myth was the first indication for me that there was.
Apart from feeling angry about being jibbed, I also felt motivated to get out and meet other women who were like me. I’d always thought I was the only one – the only one who didn’t that marriage and having children and keeping house were all there was to a happy life. I wanted to meet women who were childless and who had careers.
And so I got out. I went to uni and I went overseas and met some amazing women who were doing incredible things. I finally had women to model myself on.
I spent six months in South Africa and ten months in Timor, working with women who were coming up against challenges far greater than mine. In South Africa I lived with a young woman who I was working with, and I saw the world through her eyes and the eyes of the women she was working with in her community. I saw myself through their eyes and came to understand that despite my challenges, I had choice.
I’ve learned to be appreciative of what I have. Women before me fought and died for what I have –and a lot of women don’t know that. Women’s lives 100 years ago were bloody hard. And now I can choose – to get an education, to not get married, to not have kids.
And it’s not over. Just because I have choice, doesn’t mean that other women do. There are a lot of women out there who don’t. That’s why I get mad when people say that feminism is dead. It’s not. There’s still a long way to go.
I think, really – just do it. Get involved. The fight’s not done. And if we get complacent, that’s when bad things happen. If you can do something small, you should just do it.
ActionAid does great work. The organisation stands behind and supports women– so if that’s what you want to do, getting involved with ActionAid is a really great way to do it.
Join a global movement of people working together to further human rights and defeat poverty for all.