Feminism has always existed in everything but name. Feminists have always pushed back against systemic oppression. We have always been reading, writing and teaching. We have always been the “right” kind of woman, because there is no wrong way to be a woman. Our whole lives we have been told, directly and indirectly, to get back into our gender roles and perform as the patriarchy tells us.
History has taken feminist action and changed the messaging. Unmarried women become hags and spinsters – when they’re probably having a great gay time. Having sex for pleasure, access to birth control, and autonomy over our own bodies are still being challenged and questioned. How do we KEEP pushing back?
Those stickers that read ‘Well behaved women seldom make history’ irk me. The implication that it was somehow the fault of women and our behaviour that led to the erasure of our accomplishments from the history books drives me spare. I have been told I am misinterpreting the sentiment – often by men – it means that women’s labour is erased. Yeah, cool. Because they were well behaved yeah? So, they were complicit with their culture and it’s their fault that they are erased? Not a capitalist system that demands unpaid labour of women to raise workers, or a patriarchal society that demands it be the woman’s role to create a clean home for the “man of the house”? I think the most interesting thing about the famous quote is who said it. Do you know? I hope you do but I am almost certain you don’t. It’s none other than Pulitzer Prize winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Oh, maybe she was too well behaved to be remembered?
The patriarchy has pervaded our society for as long as wheat could be traded for a metal coin. Throughout history, the bodily autonomy of women has come second to reproduction, housekeeping, and raising children. Women who fight back against this trope are outcast, shunned, and humiliated. Beaten, raped, and murdered. Burnt at the stake. Again, I state, there have always been feminists.
Genuine equality cannot be achieved as long as society and culture view women as a uterus first and human second. To control reproductive rights is to control women. To shame women for accessing birth control is to shame their right to exist as humans first and ovaries second. This is such a basic fucking step. And, like they say, are we seriously still talking about this?
Having lived my whole life as the “wrong kind” of woman – too fat, too loud, too opinionated, too ugly, – it shocks me how these sexist thoughts pervade my own self view. How I engage in conversations with other women, and men. How worthy I think I am of both praise and criticism. This messaging is so deeply ingrained into our culture that not only am I dealing with knowing that I am wrong in the eyes of our culture, but reminding myself that it is this very culture that is wrong AND educating others on why culture is wrong. We are in a perpetual state of unlearning.
To unlearn the patriarchy is to unlearn how to breathe. It is to change how we see and feel. This is no easy task when you are decades into a life lived this way. We need to create a safe and comfortable nest to grow in. To develop and explore new ideas. To fuck up, make mistakes, to forgive and to be forgiven.
To understand patriarchy is to know its history and how it began. In Australia, it began with colonisation. I’m not going to speak on First Nations People culture or lifestyle. It is so rich and varied and I don’t have the knowledge, the permission, or the right to discuss this with the depth and richness it deserves. But what I will say is that we should ALWAYS be prioritising First Nation voices. They are the oldest living culture. They are the traditional owners of this land
How can we do this?
We must prioritise First Nations people. Black and Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) have, throughout history, have been instrumental in forcing systemic change. From Rosa Parks’ choice of seating on the bus, to Marsha P Johnston at the Stonewall Riots to Mahala Yousafzai going to school: women get shit done, but BIPOC women get shit DONE. I cannot even begin to describe the significance of the Indigenous folk in Melbourne, who I won’t name for privacy reasons, but to say that they are friends, they are allies, and they are incredible. If you don’t know what I mean, go look up Beautiful, Talented and Deadly, Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) and Feminism and Decolonisation on Facebook, or check out seedmob.org.au – these are the folk we need to be looking to, platforming, and supporting when we talking about changing culture. Clementine Ford is great, but she is grappling with the same issues that all white feminists are – and that is a whole other article.
Make it your business to research women either from modern Australia or women from history who have been “forgotten”. Go into a wiki hole. Start with someone notable and find that “related to” link, or that “people also search for” link.
I am going to interview women, trans, and nonbinary folk about their experiences in their field. Women and LGBTQIA+ folk are hidden in plain sight. Knowledge is power and exposure is the best path to acceptance and understanding.
Why don’t we challenge ourselves and Australians to only buy products made by women, read books written by women, and engage in services run by women for a month? A year? Let’s be feminstarians.
Why not attend a panel of Australian Women, trans, and gender non-conforming folk, talking about their experiences within the patriarchy and how it has affected them and the supports they’ve needed to get through difficult times? Why don’t we organise one?
“Well behaved women seldom make history” is loaded terminology. Women have been participating in the development of ideas, invention, and creation for as long as time permits. Women have been fighting against oppression for as long as time permits. It is a patriarchal society that demands women not be credited or recognised – and the patriarchy is just a set of ideas and learned behaviour. We can undo the ongoing effects of these restrictive beliefs together.