feminist of the week: phylisa wisdom
Name: Phylisa Wisdom
Occupation: Academic Researcher and Freelance Blogger, although I’ll be swapping around a little bit over the next few months! #expatlife
Location/Hometown: Living in Melbourne currently…via Boston, London and hometown San Diego, CA.
Describe yourself in one word: passionate
What is your feminist philosophy?
It’s pretty basic: everyone, regardless of gender or sexual identity, is entitled to a life filled with dignity, respect, a feeling of safety and equal opportunities for success/health/access to services.
When did you have your feminist awakening?
When I was sixteen I went on a lobbying trip (mostly for social reasons) to Washington DC to talk to my congressman about reproductive rights. Until that meeting, I genuinely didn’t realise that anyone was trying to reduce access to women’s critical health services; it only existed theoretically for me because everyone closest to me was a feminist (whether they used that term or not). I met with this group of very conservative policy makers and thought, ‘whoa… they have a lot of power to do some very dangerous things.’
Have you read any books that have influenced the way you think about women and feminism? If so, what are some of your favourites?
Cunt by Inga Muscio. Super radical and very important when I read it at 18, although I wouldn’t say it necessarily fits my philosophy perfectly. I also read The Red Tent by Anita Diamont and was really excited by that as a teenager, in particular as a Jewish teenager. Honestly, I think the first feminist book I read and loved was children’s book Harriet the Spy. She was a badass, and about as precocious as I was. I’ve read lots of academic books on gender and sexuality, and those are obviously hugely influential for people all over the world, but Audre Lorde, Germaine Greer and Judith Butler are worth a mention. Jessica Valenti is a great contemporary voice, too.
What is the most important feminist cause in your life, and why?
I don’t think a cause can necessarily be “feminist” because gender doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Economic justice is a feminist issue. Access to key public health services is a feminist issue. Unemployment is a feminist issue and intimate partner violence is a feminist issue. Men being socialised to avoid emoting and thus being more likely to “act out” their depression is also a feminist issue, because it’s a symptom of narrow ideas of gender expression, and hurts men. I think it’s more important to look at what’s going on in the world with a critical feminist lens and think that way. Like, which identities are most vulnerable to a particular social problem? Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and other gendered violence in our lifetimes, but intersections of race and class play a role in that, too. So yeah… it’s complicated and I think that approaching any “cause” with that lens is important.
How do you think Australia’s current political climate affects the way we, as a society, value women?
I moved to Australia right when this new government came in, so I think that my perspective is fairly limited. I will say that I think Julia Gillard said it all best in her famous parliamentary speech. There is a problem of institutionalised sexism and homophobia here, just as there is in the USA. It’s built into systems. It seems (to an outsider) like this government and many Australians view women’s issues as finished, and think we’ve done enough. We’ve done a lot in all developed nations to create opportunities for women, but those have mostly existed for white, cis-gender women (born women) with access to resources (money). It’s time for governments and citizens to think about what we can do for women who are not middle class, not straight and/or not white. I’m not sure this government is doing that, and that’s the next big step to equality. That requires those with the most power to give some of it up, and conservative governments don’t traditionally like that.
And how does it compare to the political climate in the US?
Well, we talk a lot more about abortion there. We have some catching up to. America is bigger and more diverse, honestly. It’s hard to compare. Our religious right is a unique beast and we have way more big cities with more politicians, for example. But it feels like this government is certainly interested in creating a more American-style higher education and health care system (with things like a GP co-pay).
Do you think that feminism has a branding issue? If so, why and how do you suggest the movement can fix it?
I think that some otherwise progressive people struggle with why to be a feminist now that women (in developed nations) have the vote, are more likely to be in university, are likely to be doctors and are politicians, etc. We need to make very clear that the direction and aims of the movement have shifted, and remember to keep our perspective international. When white, straight, middle class women are complaining about maternity leave, I honestly think that apolitical or centre-right leaning people are confused. ‘We’ve come so far!’ is the cry of the privileged; there are many people who don’t experience that progression as a result of their race, class, and gender. That said, feminism is only accountable to feminists. When feminists are disenchanted with the movement because they feel that it’s too insular, or that white women’s voices are the loudest, we should listen and think hard about how to make it more inclusive. When old, conservative misogynists call us man-hating, bra-burning lesbians, there isn’t much we can do. Haters gonna hate.
You’re hosting a fictional “feminist” dinner party. Who would you invite, dead or alive, and why?
Beyonce because she’s powerful, sexy and amazing. She has serious potential to make big change. Author Anya von Bremzen because she gets international stuff, can cook and just sounds rad. My grandmother, because she needs to be reminded why she’s a feminist sometimes. Dodai Stewart of Jezebel for her perspective, media angle and hilarity. Gloria Steinman because duh. Barack Obama because again, duh. Feminist president. Probably some suffragettes, for good measure. We need some historical context. Cece MacDonald to talk to us about how the fight is far, far from over. Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. My friends, because they would be mad if I didn’t invite them and they’re mostly good cooks, good drinkers and good feminists.
True or false: menstruation is a feminist issue.
TRUE! Get a menstrual cup for your body and the environment. Don’t let them sell you stupid products to hide what your body does (scented spray- WT actual F?). And for the love of everything, don’t be embarrassed about it in front of your boyfriend.
If we want to change the world, first we must…listen to each other.