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Feminist of the week: Wendy McCarthy

Name: Wendy McCarthy
Age: 70
Occupation: Company Director and Mentor
How would you describe yourself and your life?
A life well lived and still a work  in progress. In many ways my original skills and passions are being reenergized in the work I do at the moment.

I grew up in rural NSW and was lucky enough to win a scholarship to university when I was 16. Education changed my life and  my first career was as a secondary school teacher. It was a wonderfully portable career and I taught in Sydney, London and Pittsburgh in my first 6 years out of university. Those were wonderful learning years and it was where I first understood that being female was a cultural concept and in Australia being female was  more limited than many other parts of the world .

This was a shock but also the perfect segue into feminist reading in the sixties and feminist activism for the rest of my life. That activism has informed my life opportunities and decisions. For me the personal is always political.

Currently I am the matriarch off my family and I enjoy the role, its responsibilities and the fun of a large extended family.

I could never have imagined my life as it has unfolded. It was never planned

What does Feminism mean to you?
It is about identity, social justice, fairness and taking responsibility for 50% of the leadership of thought and activity in Australia and the world. It has also been about friendship and common endeavours with other women.

Do you think feminism has a place in today’s society?
I do because it provides a framework of understanding about what it is to be female and it celebrates that.

Which feminist stereotype annoys you the most? Why?
The sloppy stereotype of man hating, incompetent woman who is a feminist because she cannot find a man to define her.

If you could pass on one piece of advice to other feminists, what would it be?
Continue to be passionate about what it means to be female in today’s world. While 70% of the world’s poor are female there is no social justice. We have to keep the momentum for changing this.

Do you think it is okay to laugh at sexist jokes if you are a feminist?
It is not OK to laugh at sexist jokes because you become complicit in their meaning and intent.Instead use them as an opportunity to practice smart responses. It works.

Wendy McCarthy’s advocacy and leadership in many areas are recognised nationally and in 1989 she was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia for outstanding contributions to community affairs, women’s affairs and the Bicentennial celebrations. She has represented Australia at conferences on women’s health and leadership, education, broadcasting, conservation and heritage and in 2005 she was nominated by the Sydney Morning Herald as one of Australia’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals and was one of the finalists for the 2009 NSW Woman of the Year. To read more about Wendy, have a look at her memoir, Don’t Fence Me In, available from Amazon. 

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