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A Bonza Clementine
20 / 03 / 2014
A Bonza Sheila is a regular section where we pay tribute to a good woman. This month Sheilas Editor Sarah Capper talks with one of our favourite feminist rabble-rousers: writer, broadcaster and public speaker Clementine Ford. Hailing from Adelaide, but now Melbourne based, Clementine is a regular columnist for Fairfax’ Daily Life and the ABC’s The Drum website.
Sarah Capper: What inspired your own interest in women’s rights – was it an actual event you can recall or was it a gradual interest?
Clementine Ford: I’ve always been bolshy. I’m the youngest of three children, and it drove me crazy when we were growing up because I always felt like my parents held that against me. So I was pretty used to speaking up for what I thought my ‘rights’ should be, particularly when it came to things like household chores. I feel like my feminism began to crystallise in my teen years when I began to really feel the sting of uneven gender expectations, both at home and in public. But if anyone asked me, I would still distance myself from the F word. I thought if I admitted to being a feminist, no one would want to have sex with me. But after I took a gender studies course during my second year at university, I embraced the term with gusto. The funny thing is that it wasn’t until I started really engaging with gender politics that I also started getting laid a lot. Feminism – it’s good for your fanny.
SC: Before relocating to Melbourne, you grew up in Adelaide, where, after working for the University of Adelaide’s On Dit newspaper, you had two years writing a column and blog for the Sunday Mail. You have a big social media following and often your columns (eg. Daily Life) generate a lot of commentary. What are the best and worst things about having this direct window and connection with your readers?
CF: There’s a tendency in the feminist community to complain about the level of abuse women receive online. I’ve done it myself on numerous occasions. And look, it can be pretty horrendous and violently misogynistic. Just the other day, someone emailed me to tell me that it should have been me instead of ‘the lovely Jill Meagher’, and that no one would have been sorry. I find that kind of cognitive dissonance really sad and tiring.
On the other hand, I receive FAR more messages of encouragement and thanks than I do of hate. Both men and women contact me to offer support and it’s hugely gratifying to see. So on balance, I actually think that feminists like me are incredibly lucky to be working in a time when large pockets of the population aren’t just onside but are unafraid to show it. I feel like there are thousands of people out there who have my back, and that makes me feel a lot safer in the face of such pathetic anger. There are times when feeling accountable to a large number of strangers can be quite daunting or exhausting, but on balance I feel extremely fortunate.
SC: I note that you will often highlight or re-post some pretty bilious content people have written about you or sent you. What’s your motivation around doing this?
CF: I think it’s important for people to see what kind of language is used against women who dare to go against the grain of traditional feminine ideals. Women are still expected to be gracious and conciliatory – when we’re not, there are a handful of people who will try to put us in our place. It’s a way of taking power away from them and inviting the world to condemn and/or laugh at their backwardness.
SC: But seriously, I’m curious, how do you stay sane in the face of attracting some of the more nasty online comments? Do you have any secret Zen tips?!
CF: Wine and valium.
SC: You’re a freelance writer, contributing to soooo many publications – included but not limited to this publication ‘Sheilas,’ as well as regular pieces for Fairfax’ Daily Life and ABC’s The Drum. What advice would you give to other young women wanting to embark on a freelance writing career?
CF: In many ways, it’s easier now to break into freelancing than when I first started. There are heaps more sites that are available to pitch to and they generally take themselves a bit less seriously than old media. On the other hand, it can be more difficult too – there’s less money to go around and it’s a little harder to make a name for yourself when there are so many other people to compete with. My best advice is to be true to your own voice. Discover what it is you like writing about and what message you’re passionate about, and work hard at delivering that to your audience. Authenticity is important in today’s competitive media landscape.
SC: I have read that you’d like to write a book. You’ve also written pieces for and performed at the Adelaide Fringe. I’m curious as to what are a couple of your long-term writing goals?
CF: Somewhat out of left field, but I’d really love to get into television script writing. Hell, I watch enough of it. I like the idea of using my creativity in a way that doesn’t involve people sending me emails calling me a fat pig.
SC: I also know you’re pretty passionate about roller-derby. What’s the attraction for you?
CF: Roller skating, feminism, teamwork and friendships with women. What’s not to love? Plus I get to hit things and get away with it – it’s an essential stress reliever for a freelance feminist writer!
SC: There’s been a lot of debate about feminism over the last decade – the ol’ we’re living in a post-feminist world versus we need feminism more than ever. I know you’ve also been part of community debates on this topic. With all your contact with young women (and men) from various backgrounds – what’s your gut feeling – are we witnessing a new re-invigoration in women’s rights?
CF: Absolutely. Part of the backlash has always been to try and convince society that feminism is over and that ‘normal’ women have no need for it anymore. The beauty of the internet is that we can all connect directly with each other. And from my observation and direct experience, more women – and men – than ever are eager to see a new kind of society in which all people, not just women, are given equality and opportunities. If you build it, they will come.
SC: What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?
CF: Don’t let anyone undermine you or make you feel like you are less than them. Your voice is important so learn to listen to it. And don’t buy those tencel jeans.
SC: If you could invite any woman from history to a dinner party, who would they be?
CF: Dorothy Parker, hands down. Her dry wit would be the perfect companion to a robust bottle of Shiraz.
SC: Who inspires you and why?
CF: I’m inspired by the young women I see passionately taking up their feminist armour and marching off to battle. And I’m inspired by the women who’ve come before us, many of whom continue to fight. Women inspire me. We have been so under-appreciated for so long, but there is a grand history that doesn’t cease to exist just because men have never been interested in writing it down.
SC: Thank you Clementine, we love your work – keep writing and inspiring!
Clementine Ford is a columnist for Fairfax Digital’s Daily Life, Fairfax’ flagship news and opinion site for women in Australia.
She has written for numerous other publications, including ABC’sThe Drum, The Big Issue, Grazia Magazine, The Hoopla and Sunday Life Magazine (Fairfax papers).
Clementine appears regularly on 774 ABC Melbourne, Melbourne’s 3RRR, Adelaide ABC 891 and Canberra’s 2CC.