SOME 400 young women gathered at Leongatha’s Memorial Hall last week to hear from well-known writer, speaker and feminist thinker Clementine Ford.
In a humorous though often confronting presentation, Ms Ford emphasised the importance of challenging gender inequality and its associated attitudes and behaviours, and gave the students from Leongatha Secondary College, Mary MacKillop Catholic Regional College, Wonthaggi SC, Mirboo North SC, Trafalgar SC, and Yooralla strategies to deal with the backlash that often comes with speaking out.
In sharing details of the constant threats and abuse she receives online as a result of sharing her views, Ms Ford highlighted the link between gender inequality and men’s violence against women, with the message that ‘everyday’ behaviours such as sexist jokes and language, and objectification and stereotyping of women must be challenged in order to decrease such violence.
Ms Ford said humour is a great defence and a way to “reclaim your power” and she used the analogy of the ‘Boggart’ in the Harry Potter books to illustrate this.
“A great way to combat sexist jokes is to just feign confusion or ask for the joke to be repeated and explained, until the person realises how ridiculous they sound,” she said.
The audience went home with resources on where to go for support including details of the wellbeing staff at their schools, as well as helplines and websites.
Ms Ford’s appearance in Leongatha was thanks to Leongatha Secondary College Year 11 student Lizzie Harms, who wanted to do a project to include and empower her young female peers.
Lizzie gave a powerful speech of her own on the day, detailing the personal experiences that motivated her to take action against gender inequality.
She spoke of being attacked and isolated by female friends after speaking out against some young men at her school, and along with Ms Ford, urged young women to stand together and support each other.
While many of the Year 9 to 12 students were unfamiliar with Ms Ford’s work prior to the presentation, almost everyone in the audience stood up (literally) to show they were familiar with experiences of gender inequality, such as men making degrading comments about their bodies and their sporting abilities.
But even after a presentation that left them feeling “empowered” many of the young women were not ready to call themselves feminists, for fear of backlash from their peers.
“Whether or not they claim the word, it doesn’t matter,” said Ms Ford “It’s more about having the belief that men and women should have equal rights.
“One day, they might get sick of being quiet and want to start cheerleading for themselves. But they should ask themselves why they perceive the term negatively.
“If it’s a shameful word, what does that say about our acceptance of women speaking up for themselves?”
While the girls were at the hall, Year 9 to 12 boys and teachers from Leongatha Secondary College participated in a ‘Mate’ bystander intervention training session with the South Coast Primary Care Partnership.
This training, made possible thanks to the $140,000 State Government grant the South Coast PCP received last year, included tips on standing up to disrespectful behaviour and a screening of the film ‘The Mask You Live In’ which addresses toxic masculinity and rigid gender stereotypes.
Girls stand together against inequality