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feminist of the week: ellen read

ellen read fotw
Ellen Read
Policy worker at a disability advocacy organisation
Location/Hometown: Canberra, Australia

Describe yourself in one word:

What is the most important feminist cause in your life?
I’m not sure that I can pick just one! But maybe that’s just it. In response to Alan Jones’ infamous comment ‘women are destroying the joint’, editor and comedian Stella Young wrote ‘[s]hit, I’d be happy just to be allowed in the joint’. Women are an incredibly diverse bunch. So what’s really important to me is making feminism as diverse as women. Feminism is about women from all backgrounds, experiences, races, cultures, religions, sexualities and abilities etc. being included in ‘the joint’ and having all of our voices heard on an equal basis with men.

What inspires you?
I don’t really have a particular source of “inspiration” but I suppose some things help me feel strong. One of my boss’s mottos is ‘never apologise for being in the room’. During my first few months working with her she had to keep telling me ‘Don’t apologise! Stop apologising! Did I just hear you apologise AGAIN?’ As a young woman who is still learning to be confident, this message has resonated with me in a really powerful way.  I began to realise it doesn’t matter if I’m imperfect, or if I’m not outstanding, or if I’m not ‘right’, or that I’m young, or indeed that I’m a woman. What I have to say, and what every woman or girl has to say, is worth hearing. And we should never apologise for making ourselves heard!

Why do you think feminism is often rejected as a relevant movement and ideology?
Because people are afraid and/or in denial. It’s not nice to be confronted with the reality of injustice in our society, especially when you realise it is EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME. I think people want to feel like the world is a reasonable, safe and fair place. We especially want to feel like we are good people who do the right thing. To accept feminism as a relevant movement and ideology is to accept that society is often unreasonable, unsafe and unfair. It is to accept that we often participate or are complicit in things that are unreasonable, unsafe and unfair. To do this we need to constantly question what we take for granted; the socially constructed norms that tell us what is right and wrong and, well, ‘normal’. This isn’t easy. It is way easier to pretend everything is fine and dandy and that feminists are just over-emotional whingers.

Can men be considered feminist? Why should men take up the feminist cause?
Men ARE feminists when they believe in and support gender equality. Men should take up feminism for some of the same reasons women should. Society is better for everyone when we are all respected as being of equal worth. Equality can only happen when people of all genders are on board.

My message to men considering taking up the cause: challenge your own assumptions and attitudes, listen to women with an open mind, and truly respect women’s perspectives. We all have different perspectives and we won’t always relate to those of other people. Truly respecting women means realising that although you don’t always relate, this doesn’t mean women’s views are wrong or invalid. I’m not saying men should never challenge the views of women; feminists must often do so in support of the feminist cause (as well as the views of men of course!).  But don’t attempt to “validate” or “invalidate” our perspectives; this only feeds the idea that men are “better”. Please do listen, respect, and work with us.

What does equality look like?
Whoa. I’m not sure because I’ve never seen it before! Perhaps fundamental to equality is respect for the inherent dignity and worth of each and every person on this planet. That is, respecting each other’s unique needs, experiences, views and identities and supporting each other’s contribution to society as a whole. Fair distribution of resources is a big part of this. It’s not about treating everyone alike.

I need feminism because… I can’t accept inequality as natural, normal, or unchangeable

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