The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘women we love’

Women we love: Emily Maguire

Posted by Nic Heath on August 20, 2010

Writer and feminist Emily Maguire is the author of Princesses & Pornstars (2008), reworked for a young adult audience as Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power & Choice (2010), as well as novels Smoke in the Room (2009), The Gospel According to Luke (2006) and Taming the Beast (2004).

One of the most prominent feminist voices in the Australian media landscape today, Emily has written articles and essays on sex, religion and culture that have been published in newspapers and journals including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Financial Review, The Age, The Monthly and the Observer.

In an interview on Radio National’s Book Show recently I heard Emily say that despite people regularly decrying the death of feminism, she thought it was doing really well. ‘I think the issue is that feminism doesn’t look like it used to look,’ she said. ‘It’s everywhere…there isn’t one monolithic movement’. Interest piqued, I wanted to hear more about her feminism, so I asked Emily about her fiction, writing for a young audience and of course, about the healthy state of feminism today.


How and when did you become a feminist?

My feminism emerged over a period of a decade or more. As a teenager I thought feminism was great, but over. By my early twenties I’d realised that our society was soaking in sexism and misogyny and I began to search for answers as to why that was so. Feminist writers helped me to understand why things were they way they were and gave me ideas about what I could do about them. I suppose I started to call myself a feminist in my mid-twenties.

I became an active feminist – meaning I began to speak and write about it – when I realised that I wasn’t the only one to have reached adulthood without being exposed to feminist ideas. So many people in the generation above mine (as well as those of my generation lucky enough to have been schooled in feminism at uni or home) think that it’s all been said, but there are many of us who more or less missed the 2nd and 3rd waves. Ideas and ways of thinking that some think of as elemental or tired are brand new and exciting to many others.

You’ve written three fiction books, with the latest, Smoke in the Room, published in October last year. Do you consciously work feminist themes into your fiction?

No. I am very wary of infecting my characters with my political views or of writing fiction with a ‘message’ in mind. However, I think that noticing is key to writing fiction; what a particular novelist notices about the world around them will inevitably make it into their fiction. So of course the way I view the world is coloured by my feminism (among other things) and my writing is influenced by the things I notice and the way I think about those things. Some people might call the creation of complicated, flawed, vibrant female characters feminist; I call it realistic.

What motivated the decision to publish Your Skirt’s Too Short, a revised young adult edition of your non-fiction work Princesses and Pornstars? What changes did you make to the original text?

I originally wrote Princesses and Pornstars out of frustration. I was sick of seeing and hearing sexism and antiquated gender stereotypes day after day, while at the same time hearing that we’re a post-feminist society and sexism is no longer a problem.

I also was terribly sick of the way teenage girls and young women were being constantly berated and shamed by media hype over ‘raunch culture’ and I was annoyed that many of those who claimed to be on the side of young people, who claimed to want to empower girls, were themselves perpetuating gender stereotypes, telling girls they’re princesses and talking about them like they’re delicate flowers who must be kept pure and protected.

My objective was to tackle the gender-coloured issues facing young people – porn, raunch, sex, romance, body image – in a non-academic way, a way that engaged with the culture that young people are immersed in rather than looked down on it. I also thought it was important to write the book through a personal lens, because I didn’t want to be placing myself above it all, speaking as an authority. I wanted to be speaking as someone who is still/or has in the past struggled with all this stuff.

After Princesses and Pornstars was released I started to hear from a lot of readers who were quite a bit younger than the audience I’d imagined when I was writing the book. In light of this, I – and my publisher – decided that a revised edition, especially for those teens was worth doing. So Your Skirt’s Too Short was born.

Some of the changes are simple updates – we’ve had a change of government since P&P was released and so I needed to update most of the information on legislation and policy. I also updated a lot of the pop culture references not only to be more current, but to be more relevant to younger teens rather than women in their early 20s. The tone is different in some places, too: I’m speaking to teenagers rather than about them. There’s also a new section on ‘sexting’ and a chapter about bitching, bullying and the idea that women are our own worst enemies (which is something I hear a lot).

In September you are appearing on a Melbourne Writer’s Festival panel looking at four feminist classics – A Room of One’s Own, The Second Sex, The Female Eunuch and The Beauty Myth. What do these books mean to you?

The Beauty Myth  blew my body-hating, self-loathing teenage mind. It had genuinely never occurred to me that anything other than vanity was behind the beauty rituals and obsessions of every woman and girl I knew.  A Room of One’s Own was incredibly important to me. I used to think I couldn’t be a writer because I was a high-school drop out with no contacts and no clue about how the literary world worked. I thought there was a correct way to go about it and if I didn’t know it I couldn’t do it. Woolf inspired me to ‘write all kinds of books hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast,’ and to ‘dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.’ I didn’t read The Female Eunuch until a few years ago. I was delighted that a book I’d expected to be dry and academic was so chaotic and emotional. It inspired me to be braver in my writing.

Australia is in the midst of a federal election campaign that has been fixated on gender, without too much discussion of policy. What do you think are the big issues affecting women that we should be talking about in this election campaign?

Pay equity is a big issue as, depressingly, Australia is going backwards on this. Paid parental leave and access to quality, affordable child care continue to be important. We should also be talking a lot more about the poverty suffered by older women who don’t have sufficient superannuation or retirement funds to live on thanks to all those years spent in unpaid caring work.

Of course, these are only the explicitly gender-related issues. Women make up half of the population and are responsible for a great deal of the care of another huge proportion of the population. It’s hard to think of a policy area that does not affect the lives of women.

What are your greatest concerns for young women today? What do you think feminism can offer them?

My concerns vary depending on the particular young women we’re talking about. Even if I limit my answer to concerns for young women in Australia, there’s no one answer. Domestic and sexual violence, lack of educational opportunities, inadequate access to healthcare (including reproductive healthcare), workplace harassment or discrimination – I could go on and each concern I mentioned would be relevant to some young women and not at all to others because gender injustice and inequity are compounded by other inequities and because sexism has many different manifestations.

I think of feminism as a super-flexible, multi-function tool. Whether you’re concerned about pay inequality or reproductive rights or domestic violence or one of a thousand other issues, there’s this amazing body of work created by feminist academics, writers and activists that can help explain the causes of the problem and suggest ways to solve it.

Looking at raunch culture, what needs to change to counter its spread?

I think the term ‘raunch culture’ has been misused and abused so much that it’s become almost meaningless. I mean, I’ve seen it used in relation to everything from children’s beauty pageants to footballer’s gang-bangs. If you’re using it in it’s original sense – as coined and defined by way Ariel Levy in Female Chauvinist Pigs  –  then I think its spread has already been countered, in large part thanks to the conversation begun by that book. Really, if you take a look at media and social commentary over the past decade you’ll see that, increasingly, overtly sexual women (whether that overt sexuality is authentic or faked) are far more likely to be shamed and stigmatised than celebrated.

In an interview on The Book Show on Radio National recently you spoke of how healthy feminism is today, despite detractors claiming otherwise. What signs of health do you see?

Well, to start right here, the feminist blogosphere is populated by a wonderfully diverse, argumentative, generous, creative, activist and ever-increasing number of feminists. Then there are the thousands of people who buy and discuss (in real world or online discussion groups) any one of the many popular feminist books that have been published in the past few years. (Just off the top of my head: Female Chauvinist Pigs, King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes, The Feminist Denial by Monica Dux and Zora Simic, Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, Living Dolls by Natasha Walter, Bodies by Susie Orbach.)

Then there are all the feminist women and men working in the community, in social services, in academia, in politics and in the corporate world. (The anti-feminists’ nightmare has come true – feminists really are everywhere!) Many of these feminists were in attendance at this year’s F Conference in Sydney which was a sold out event. Over 400 feminists from every walk of life spent a weekend engaging in discussions and workshops on everything from indigenous women’s knowledge to sex work.

What writing projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a new novel. Right now, it’s a glorious, shining, amorphous thing that I adore but can’t describe. I may be able to talk about it once  I’m on to the third, fourth or fifteenth draft and no longer besotted.


Emily Maguire is set to revisit four classic feminist texts at Melbourne Writer’s Festival in From Woolf to Wolf, with Sophie Cunningham and Monica Dux, and hosted by Jo Case.

You can also catch Emily at MWF discussing young people and the media with SBS’s James West and editor of The Monthly Ben Naperstek.

Check here for dates and tickets.


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Women We Love: Ella Hooper

Posted by hannahcolman on November 9, 2008

Ella Hooper (photgraphed by Taja Coles-Berenyi)

Ella Hooper (photographed by Taja Coles-Berenyi)

In 1996, thirteen year old Ella Hooper and her fifteen year old brother Jesse played their first acoustic gig at the Violet Town Arts Festival. Five years down the track, the siblings were multiple ARIA award winners, and APRA songwriters of the year. Thanks to a timely Unearthing (by Triple J), a deceptively simple first single (the spectacularly catchy ‘Weir’) and a heap of hard work recording and touring; their band Killing Heidi won legions of fans across the country.

Killing Heidi’s debut album ‘Reflector’ went to number one on the Australian charts and in 2000 the band took out a tidy four ARIA awards. Things got a little hairy when Ella had to have an operation to remove the nodules that had boorishly decided to inhabit her throat, but thankfully she recovered in time to receive the APRA Songwriter of the Year award in 2001 (with Jesse).

These days, Ella and Jesse front The Verses, a six piece band whose sound represents a return to the siblings’ roots in acoustic-based tunes. Country girl (she grew up in rural Victoria’s Violet Town, population 1460) turned city slicker, Ella hasn’t forgotten where she started out – this becomes apparent when listening to the fabulously soulful sounds of her latest project. She took some time out from rehearsals to chat to The Dawn Chorus about making music and keeping it real in an image-obsessed world.


The Dawn Chorus: Do you see yourself as a role model for girls looking to get into music?

Ella Hooper: I guess through sheer force of time spent in the industry I get that role or title or what have you of role model… but I don’t know if I always act appropriately to deserve it… I do get quite a bit of MySpace correspondence on that topic – girls saying that I am why they started singing or started a band, and it always surprises and touches me.  I’m so honoured to have had an influence and hopefully contributed a positive example. I do think we need [positive female role models in the industry], I certainly had many female artists that I looked to as a young ‘un for inspiration.

TDC: How do you feel about the pressure on women, especially those in the entertainment industry, to look a certain way?

EH: I think the pressure on women now is intense. I look at some of the gossip and fashion magazines around at the minute and cannot believe how degrading and judgmental and generally freaky they’re getting! To me it’s creating a climate of seriously unhealthy body image, depression and anxiety in both the sensitive young and the long-term, worn-down older readers. And worse still, we’re starting to see it all as ‘normal’. Like, “that’s just how it is when you’re famous.” I don’t think we should be so concerned with these famous people on the glossy pages, but more so think about what the obsession with them is doing to us. Botox, lipo, boob jobs… plastic surgery in general is becoming so alarmingly commonplace, and yes, I think it starts with women in the media who buckle first and set a bad example, normalising it, even making it appear to be another ‘luxury’ to aim for. I think if we’re not careful and things don’t change we’re going to create a physical and mental health crisis for the next generation of young women.

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Women We Love: Sarah Haskins

Posted by Clem Bastow on September 23, 2008

Of all the “online sensations” that the internets have birthed, few will be worthy of our attention in the years to come – hell, most are forgotten within weeks, destined to crop up in “Remember When…” features about YouTube superstars and people who penned angry bulk emails about the spaghetti stains in the office microwave and then sent it to the UN, or whatever. But there are some people who have been brought to our attention thanks largely to the wonders of ‘new media’, and for that we must be eternally grateful – one such “discovery” is Sarah Haskins.

I’ve written extensively about Haskins’ hilarious work with Target:Women, an offshoot of liberal media organisation Current TV’s news and culture magazine show, infoMania. In each episode, Haskins expertly skewers the idiocy-infused world of gender-targeted marketing, from yoghurt ads featuring women wearing grey hoodies (“It says, ‘I have a Master’s, but then I got married'”) to wedding shows (Bridezilla versus Momra) and slow motion time machines that come out of crockpots (“Wooooow!”). In short, in as-non-stalky-as-possible terms, she’s a superstar. A Chicago native who rose (and is rising) through the ranks of the comedy world, a proud feminist, and a generally kickass chick, Haskins makes us all feel that the future of the media is in safe hands.

So, who better to hit up for one of our regular Women We Love interviews than the woman herself? Sexy, clean, cool, fun, healthy, beautiful, large, UNDERPANTS, let’s Target: Sarah Haskins!

* * *

The Dawn Chorus: When did you decide you wanted to head into comedy writing? Did you have a formative comedy moment?

Sarah Haskins: “I did have a formative comedy moment, which is unusual. Normally I just stumble into things.

“I started doing improv in college and during the winter of my freshman year I went home to Chicago and saw a show at the Second City. (I am not sure if your readers know about Second City – it’s a comedy theater that creates social and political satire through sketch comedy and many of its alumni end up doing cool things: Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Chris Farley, etc, etc.) The show was so smart and funny I loved it and wanted to perform on that stage.

“Also, on a more embarrassing note, I loved the first Austin Powers movie and thought it would be really fun to work on a project like that.”

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Women We Love: Clare Bowditch

Posted by hannahcolman on September 17, 2008 might have heard of Clare Bowditch. She sings with a band called The Feeding Set. She took out the Best Female Artist award at the 2006 ARIAs for her moody, melodic album What Was Left. She has just been nominated for the same award (as well as Best Adult Contemporary Album) for The Moon Looked On, which has been lauded by critics and audiences.

In August, Clare completed her sold-out ‘Winter Secrets’ solo tour which saw her traverse the country performing songs from The Moon Looked On, as well as some old favourites, with an intriguing mix of instruments (including a loop pedal and a 1974 CasioTone). Her musical talent was only usurped by the unleashing of her inner comedienne, to the delight of the 10,000 fans that attended the eclectic, participatory shows.

She also features in Red Dog’s recent release The Divided Heart, a collection of interviews with prominent Australian artists, musicians, actors and writers. Written by her friend Rachel Power (the two met at university and lived together in a co-housing community in Melbourne for many years), the book explores the joy and the pain of staying true to the creative self after having a child. Clare’s chapter in The Divided Heart demonstrates her refreshing honesty and curious sense of humour in equal parts.

Married to Marty Brown (member of The Feeding Set and Art of Fighting), mother to Asha and twins Ollie and Archie, Clare took some time out to talk to The Dawn Chorus about music, motherhood and the beast that is marketing.

* * * 

TDC: You’re about to head to Europe to support Gotye’s tour, and then you’re planning to be in Berlin for a while. What’s the pull to that part of the world?

CB: I have no idea. I’m basically just going on instinct. I have an idea that there’s something there that needs some attention. It’s just part of having a creative adventure to be honest. I want to release my albums over there and I like the idea of Berlin as a base. I just love the city actually, I think it’s really fascinating. A lot of it’s about playing out a dream that Marty and I had a few years ago, that we would do this. Read the rest of this entry »

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Women We Love: Kate McAlpine

Posted by Clem Bastow on September 11, 2008

Who is Kate McAlpine, you ask? Perhaps you know her better by her rap alter ego, alpinekat? Yes, Kate is the woman behind the Large Hadron Rap, an internet sensation, as they say, that explains just what CERN’s Large Hadron Collider does – through the power of rhyme! When she’s not rocking the mic, Kate is a science writer who defines her mission as one that aims “to explain scientific topics in a way that is relevant, interesting and understandable”:

While accuracy in both science and reporting is serious business, the science itself should be fun. That’s why I think physics rap is the next big thing.

Kate, who is 23 and holds a double degree from Michigan State University in Professional Writing and Physics, is no doubt enjoying the boost to her profile, which is most gratifying as it has come from her being hilarious and smart (as the CERN team says of her rap, “The science is spot on”), a rarity when it comes to internet (or other!) fame these days. And since the LHC was turned on yesterday, now seems as good a time as ever to enjoy alpinekat’s scientific flow once more:

She blinded me with science! And this won’t be the last we hear of her mad skillz, either – nor the most densely scientific, either. From the Telegraph story:

While alpinekat hasn’t yet signed with a record label, she’s now working on a rap, written during a summer research program at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University. “It contains too much jargon, but it’s still fun.”

Word, sista!

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Women We Love: Christina Applegate

Posted by Mel Campbell on August 21, 2008

Breast cancer is one of those illnesses that strikes fear into my heart. Earlier this year I had a breast cancer scare that amounted to nothing; but still, my brush with ultrasounds and mammograms had me pretty damn worried. I’d be shitscared if I actually had to face down death, and lose one of the most socially and psychologically potent symbols of my femininity.

Hearing about famous women’s public breast cancer battles tends to amplify this fear we have – Crikey had an interesting piece about how the rush to cancer-screening programs, particularly among younger women, might even be counterproductive. Perhaps fear is why we often tend to read about famous breast cancer sufferers as “brave” or “courageous”. We want our boobie-cancer patients to seem unafraid, almost to reassure ourselves. But this talk of “bravery” always seems a little patronising to the cancer patient herself.

This is why I love actor Christina Applegate’s honest, no-nonsense approach to her recent diagnosis with breast cancer, and her subsequent decision to remove both her breasts – her exquisite breasts! She recently spoke about her double mastectomy in an interview on Good Morning America:

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Women We Love: Ivory Madison

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 12, 2008

Having posted on the topic of comic books, superheroes and feminism before, it will be no secret to readers of The Dawn Chorus (and even less of a secret to those who know me personally) that I am a massive, massive geek.

But through my time spent reading comic books I felt there was something missing; I wanted a superhero to call my own, a kickass woman who didn’t have to be, well, “boobs up, ass out” to get things done. How fortunate, then, that I recently stumbled upon Huntress: Year One, DC’s six-part series introducing readers to the second woman to wear the Huntress mantle, Helena Bertinelli. Helena/Huntress is a no-nonsense, strong and independent woman with a wicked right hook and an even more wicked wit – she even takes a break, in Huntress: Year One, from beating up Batman to discuss anarcho-feminism with Catwoman. But I was delighted to discover that so, too, was the writer behind Huntress: Year One, Ivory Madison, a writer, feminist, activist and businesswoman.

Ivory is something of a superhero herself – when she’s not writing (and even when she is), she is the CEO and founder of Red Room, an online community for writers (and editors, and publishers, and readers!) that has been hailed as “MySpace for writers” and counts luminaries like Maya Angelou, Amy Tan and Barack Obama amongst its many members. All this, and she is just 29.

With the final issue of Huntress: Year One having just hit the stands this past week, I asked Ivory how she manages to be so unfailingly awesome across so many fields, without so much as a cape or superpowers to assist her.

* * *

When you were growing up, were there particular women in your life who had a major influence on you?
“In real life, no, I don’t think so. But in the world of pop culture and history, that’s where I found my heroes. I’ll never forget the moment in Star Wars, when I was little, seeing Princess Leia roll her eyes at Han Solo’s rescue attempt, grab the gun from him, and start shooting storm troopers. A moment like that, you store those up as a little girl as proof the dominant culture is wrong, and women can be strong.”

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Women We Love: Catherine Deveny

Posted by Clem Bastow on July 2, 2008

Welcome to the first in what will become a regular feature on The Dawn Chorus, Women We Love: interviews with women we find inspiring, be they trailblazers from back in the day, or those just now rising up the ranks. We hope that, you, too will be inspired by their stories and their fine work, no matter what field it’s in.

Catherine Deveny is one of Australia’s most noted columnists, and has also written extensively for television, and for her own stand-up comedy, as well as having published a number of books. The pieces she writes for The Age‘s Opinion page and Saturday’s A2 are frequently polarising and often controversial, but always delivered fearlessly and with a scythe-like wit. She is not afraid to attack the Government, the upwardly mobile, those who drive bigger cars than she does, or anything and anyone, really.

But what’s most remarkable about Catherine’s work, apart from its regularly sidesplitting hilarity, is that she isn’t simply a ‘shock hack’, penning up-yours columns to keep the lefties happy and the conservatives ropable – perhaps her most “shocking” attribute, in a market filled with cold and objective copy, is her heart. In pieces like ‘To everyday heroes: Just. Keep. Going‘ [The Age, May 28th 2008], Catherine imbues her writing with feeling and empathy, and you can’t help but be moved.

Catherine very kindly let herself be The Dawn Chorus’ inaugural interviewee, and attacked our questions with her trademark wit, always with that big heart beating just behind it – just the way we love her.

* * *

TDC: When did you decide writing was going to be “it” for you?
CD: “I have always written. Journals, letters, graffiti. I was never one of those kids writing their own fabulous adventure books. I was just writing letters to nana thanking her for the chocolate biscuits and the hand knitted jumper that looked like an abortion made of wool. I actually always wanted to be Magda Szubanski. But I can’t act. So writing it is. I never have a term with the label ‘writer’. For me it’s like girl, boy, short, tall, gay or straight. You either are a writer or not. There are people who write and there are writers. Big difference. Writers have to write. It’s like having a shit. And some of it is shit. Exhibit A: Every column I’ve ever written.”

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