big things, small package
It was the very first Queensland Young Women’s Forum and very appropriately, a room of 50 eager and unique young women sat waiting for the guest speakers to share their words of wisdom and help to continue the passion that braced the room. As we saw her face on the big screen, editor of ABC’s Ramp Up, disability advocate and comedienne, Stella Young proudly banters with the QYWF crowd about the fact that she may (or may not) have been wearing slippers. Jealous.
Stella’s abilities are far from limiting; she has amazing interpersonal skills, a strength of character not to be put down by ill-educated, rude people and a mean eye for radical hair styles. But in our quest for a fairer world, we need to remember that equality isn’t the pretence that no-one is different, but rather the acknowledgement that we’re all individuals. Stella has… and this poses her with challenges that makes her physical appearance different to my own.
She says “having no idea that I was different as a child was a privilege”. Being a wheelchair user since the age of two, it was her normal form of daily transportation. And it wasn’t until many years later that Stella found out that the aide who helped her, Norma, during her early years of schooling was in fact a volunteer community member that simply felt it wasn’t good enough for Stella not to have that extra support and to achieve the best that she could. At age 14, she audited her town to evaluate the accessibility for herself and other wheelchair users. In her mind she was thinking “why don’t you want my money too?” And thus began her many feats as a disability activist. After all, “Equality is my right”, she says.
As an honoured part of this crowd, I have to admit I was scribbling down notes as fast as I could, not to miss a word that came out of her mouth. What an inspirational lady Stella is, not only as a person facing the challenges of her disability but as a woman and we’re only up to her teenage years! You just know the rest to come is sure to give you a boost along in your fight for equality, whatever that may be.
After studying communications, Stella went on to complete an education degree but was later discriminated against by potential employers due to her physical appearance, because of the employers’ worry as to whether or not Stella could discipline students (without a chance to prove her work) rather than the evaluation of her capabilities as a teacher. Continuing on after other lines of creative work, Stella took the plunge into the comedy world. Becoming a comedian in a male dominated industry was tough with the constant discourse that women just aren’t funny. “All they talk about is relationships and girl problems”, Stella retells, then adding her own “because god forbid men ever made a joke about their bits or problems”. There’s a right confusion that assertive women in the comedy industry are mistaken for aggressive.
“When women express opinions it’s aggression, when men do it, it’s hilarious”, she says.
Even with her success, though, Stella’s fight for justice still continues. After recent accusations of “silly little girl” and “mutant lady” (you know how tough people are when they’re anonymous and online), Stella remains alert to the fact that “as women, we need to keep speaking up”.