Feminist of the week: Melissa Wellham
Name: Melissa Wellham
Occupation: Student / Freelance Writer / Blogger
How would you describe yourself and your life?
I’m a movie buff, word nerd, music snob, mag hag, comic book aficionado and political hack – and like to write about all these things, for various publications and on my blog. I studied politics and English literature at university, dabbled in full-time work for a year at a political communications firm, and recently made the decision to go back to university and “concentrate on my writing.”
I think because of my interest in pop-culture I am specifically interested in feminism in regards to the representation of women in books, movies, magazines and the media more generally.
What does Feminism mean to you?
I think what feminism means to me is quite clearly summed up by the Rebecca West quote, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
More broadly, I think that a feminist is anybody who believes that men and women should be equal. It’s as simple as that.
Do you think feminism has a place in today’s society?
Definitely. The issues faced by women in Australia, and the issues faced by women in other parts of the world, are quite diverse – but there is still an embarrassing divide between how men are treated and how women are treated the world over. Honour killings, female circumcision, women’s political rights, the gendered pay gap, the low number of women in executive positions in companies, paid parental leave, abortion rights, birth control, rape, casual misogyny – all these things are still issues.
As long as there is a discrepancy between the legal rights, social rights, political rights and respect that men and women are afforded, there will be a place for feminism.
Which feminist stereotype annoys you the most? Why?
I think the answer that most often comes up in response when I hear questions like this being posed, is the ‘every feminist is a hair-legged bra-burning banshee’ stereotype, or the ‘a man can’t be a feminist’ stereotype. And both of these do annoy me, obviously.
What annoys me more, however, is how even some feminists I know seem to revile the hairy-legged, bra-burning stereotype. I understand that, as a movement, we may want to distance ourselves from this caricature, so that we are more easily able to educate people who are resistant to feminism.
However, I think young feminists also need to acknowledge what we owe to the radical feminists of the 70s, who were fighting for exactly the same thing that we are fighting for; and stop letting ourselves be so influenced by the prejudices of anti-feminists. By taking on board their hatred of the hairy-legged feminist, and making it our own, we are doing a disservice to women – whether they shave or not.
Obviously this isn’t every feminist’s attitude toward the hairy-legged stereotype – some feminists just don’t like others assuming that they always yell!
If you could pass on one piece of advice to other feminists, what would it be?
I’ll give a piece of advice, which I actually need to take heed of myself: don’t forget about the women who are ‘out of sight.’ That is, women from other communities around the world, who may face very different issues from the ones that we face in Australia.
I’ve already said that I find debates about the representation of women in art and media interesting – but I think that sometimes the personal emphasis I place on these issues, is to the detriment of engaging with different (and arguably more important) issues such as honour killings and female circumcision.
Melissa Wellham is a freelance writer, and the film editor for BMA magazine. She blogs pretty much constantly at Melicious, where she writes about travel, theatre, films, joy, music, optimism, retro bicycles, etc – pretty much all the delicious things in life.