Unwhitening My Australian Feminism
A few weeks ago I was putting some research together to for the ‘Feminism in the Land Down Under’ epsisode of my passion project, Shrews Untamed podcast. I don’t consider myself an ‘authority’, but I’m getting comfortable with the description ‘reasonably well read’ in Aus Feminism. As is my way, I was excited to share the pearls of wisdom I’ve learned from the fierce, strong women I admire so much. However. I looked at the spines of my beloved reads. I thought of the texts we were given in Gender Studies at Uni. And realised one thing.
They were nearly all white women. Their voices are all relevant, urgent, and strong, and necessary; but, like Shrews Untamed co-chair Jay Crisp Crow and I, all of the books I’d been reading for over a year, except two, were written by someone who’s had the benefit of white privilege. As Mona Eltahawy says in The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls we should all fight patriarchy and misogyny. But BIPOC and LGBTQI have even more layers of oppression to fight through: only having to fight misogyny is a privilege.
I felt uncomfortable, and leaned into that discomfort, recognising it for what it is: a time to grow. As a human, a woman, and a feminist.
I’m lucky to belong to the awesome (and secret) group Binder Full of Australian Women Writers. It’s a community I’ve come to value so much over the past year or more, the sense of solidarity I find there is fire, balm, and joy in a world which is crunching down further into chaos as we speak. So I made the call in Binders, and they responded without judgement, and generosity. I bloody love you women.
Let me be crystal clear: Many of these women are well established, award-winning writers, academics, authors, and poets. They don’t need me to plug their work. I don’t expect a reward for opening my eyes. That’s not what this is about. I need them.
I need them to teach me — without the emotional labour of explaining to yet another white person what the world is like for them. And I’m embarrassed that I haven’t realised the limits of my feminism before now, but there it is.
“That’s why I wrote the book — so people can have those conversations without me being in the room.” — Ellen van Neervan
I know I can’t be alone in realising it was time to widen my feminist reading and perspectives. So, as I said at the top, when I learn something new, my instinct is to pass it on. It’s from that nerdish place of excitement — and recognition that to be a better ally, some work is ahead of me — that this blog comes from.
There is no better time than now to unwhiten your feminism
There just isn’t.
In Australia, we have our Prime Minister telling us #BlackLivesMatter protests are “importing” problems from the USA, problems that have nothing to do with Australia. ScoMo says Australia has had no slavery. It’s just not true. There’s a lot more to learn, but for me, unwhitening my feminism is a good start.
Without further ado, here’s an incomplete, but excellent list of BIPOC women writers. I’ve split it into specific works that were recommended, and writers whose words and works are recommended generally.
Unwhitening Australian Feminism
Recommendations of Specific Works
Talkin Up To The White Woman (20th Anniversary Edition), Aileen Moreton-Robinson: “In this ground-breaking book, Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson undertakes a compelling analysis of the whiteness of Australian feminism and its effects on Indigenous women. From an Indigenous woman’s standpoint, as a Goenpul woman and an academic, she ‘talks up’, engages with and interrogates western feminism in representation and practice….This new edition proves the continued relevance of this classic work as a critique of the whiteness of western feminism.” — UQP.
Purple Threads, Jeanine Leane. “Purple Threads reminds the reader that knowing the past helps us to understand the present and shape the future, and that interconnectedness is the human experience.” — The Weekend Australian. [Jen here: I grew up 50 mins from Gundagai so this is at the top of my list once I get through the few I bought already.]
Praise for Ruby Moonlight: “One of the most remarkable things about ‘Ruby Moonlight’ is the subtlety with which its political implications are handled: Eckermann invites (rather than dictates) political readings of what is, at heart, a simple and highly engaging narrative.” — Sarah Holland-Batt, Southerly
Praise for Inside My Mother: Ruby Moonlight received the black&write! kuril dhagun Indigenous Writing Fellowship and the Deadly Award Outstanding Achievement in Literature in 2012, as well as the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize and Book of the Year Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary and History Awards in 2013. — The Garrett podcast.
The Yield, Tara June Winch: “Just tell the truth and someone will hear it eventually. The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.” — Penguin Australia.
Too Much Lip, Melissa Lucashenko: “Too Much Lip is a fearless, searing and unvarnished portrait of generational trauma cut through with acerbic humour. A family drama a hundred years in the making unfolds in the fictional town of Durrongo as a sacred island is under threat from developers, aided by a corrupt council official born to thievery…Ultimately, Too Much Lip reaffirms the power of family and the frayed ties that still bind.” — Stella Prize judges report.
The Hate Race, Maxine Beneba Clarke: “From one of Australia’s most exciting writers, and the author of the multi-award-winning Foreign Soil, comes The Hate Race: a powerful, funny, and at times devastating memoir about growing up black in white middle-class Australia.” — The Stella Prize
Throat, Ellen Van Neervan: “Throat is the explosive second poetry collection from award-winning Mununjali Yugambeh writer Ellen van Neerven. Exploring love, language and land, van Neerven flexes their muscles and shines a light on Australia’s unreconciled past and precarious present with humour and heart. Unsparing in its interrogation of colonial impulse, this book is fiercely loyal to voicing our truth and telling the stories that make us who we are.” — UQP.
Recommendations of Writers to Read and Follow
*Unless stated, all bios below were sourced from Wikipedia
Nayuka Gorrie is an Australian actor, writer and indigenous rights activist. Gorrie uses the pronouns “they/them.”
Sandra Phillips Dr Sandra Phillips is a creative industries academic and researcher following a career in publishing as a freelancer and in-house with Aboriginal Studies Press, University of Queensland Press, and Magabala Books.
Alexis Wright is an Aboriginal Australian writer best known for winning the Miles Franklin Award for her 2006 novel Carpentaria and the 2018 Stella Prize for her “collective memoir” of Leigh Bruce “Tracker” Tilmouth.
Claire G. Coleman is a Wirlomin-Noongar-Australian writer and poet, whose 2017 debut novel, Terra Nullius won the Norma K Hemming Award. The first draft of resulted in Coleman being awarded the State Library of Queensland’s 2016 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship.
Allison Whittaker is an Australian poet and essayist. She has worked in media law and women’s law and policy. In 2015 she was name Indigenous Law Student of the Year. In 2016, her poem, Many Girls White Linen, won the Judith Wright Poetry Prize. She shared the award with Holly Isemonger, who won for her poem, OK Cupid.
Celeste Liddle is an Australian Indigenous feminist and unionist who lives in Melbourne, Australia. Having first risen to prominence via her personal blog, Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist, Liddle has written for several publications including Daily Life and The Guardian.
Maxine Beneba Clarke Clarke is an Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean descent, whose work includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
Marcia Langton Marcia Langton AO holds the foundation chair in Australian indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne in the Faculty of Medicine. In 2016 she became distinguished professor and in 2017, associate provost.
Nakkia Lui is an Australian actor, writer and comedian and is a young leader in the Australian Aboriginal community.
Ruby Hamad is a freelance writer and PhD candidate in media studies and post-colonial studies at UNSW, where she is researching media criticism and coverage of Arabs and the Middle East. April 2020.
CB Mako is an essayist, poet, and award-winning creative non-fiction writer. Shortlisted for the Overland Fair Australia Prize, cubbie has been published in The Suburban Review, The Lifted Brow, The Victorian Writer, Mascara Literary Review, Peril Magazine, DJED Press, and Writers Bloc. — Overlander Literary Journal.
Pauline Vetuna is a Tolai or Indigenous Melanesian woman, artist and writer living and working upon the lands of the Wathaurung, Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation. She uses poetry and creative writing to transmute pain, confusion and the experiences of marginalisation into things of beauty and liberation. Her storytelling documents healing lessons that she learns through living and contemplation by speaking new realities into existence. — Feminist Writers Festival
Hannah Morphy Walsh is a self-described hobbyist and an avid collector of anecdote. Her current obsessions evolve around the questions ‘what changes accessibility’, ‘who is helped by which labels’ and ‘whose conversations is this?’ — Footscrayarts.com
June Riemer is a Dunghutti woman and Deputy CEO of the national peak representative organisation, First Peoples Disability Network — of and for First Peoples with disability. June has championed and fought selflessly for the rights of our peoples, vulnerable Australians who experience discrimination and disadvantage. She leads and inspires a dedicated team of staff and volunteers and is trusted and respected by Elders in communities around the country.
Gayle Kennedy was born in Ivanhoe NSW. She is a member of the Wongaiibon Clan of the Ngiyaampaa speaking Nation of South West NSW. She has had stories published in newspapers and magazines and broadcast on radio, and was the Indigenous issues writer and researcher for Streetwize Comics from 1995–1998. Gayle Kennedy has spoken internationally on the issue of disability and culture. — Google Books
Non-Australian BIPOC Recommendations of Works:
Feminism Is For Everybody, bell hooks. “A concise argument for the enduring importance of the feminist movement today by one of the world’s leading feminist writers.” — Pluto Press.
The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, Mona Eltahawy: “A bold and uncompromising feminist manifesto that shows women and girls how to defy, disrupt, and destroy the patriarchy by embracing the qualities they’ve been trained to avoid.” — Penguin Random House
Audrey Lorde (described as “foundational and amazing”)
Rage Becomes Her, Soraya Chemaly: “‘Rage is a battle-cry of a book, drawing on all corners of contemporary life, from media to education and medicine. She takes the reader through a woman’s life, from infancy to adulthood, highlighting the systemic ways female rage is suppressed, diverted or minimalised. And she provides scientific evidence to back up her ideas. If life as a modern woman is maddening, then Rage is a sanity-restorer.” — The Guardian. [This is my pick, and this book changed my life: I consider it essential reading, and will be re-reading this year.]
Writing and resources to help white folks be better allies:
Decolonizing Solidarity, Clare Land. “Dilemmas and Directions for Supporters of Indigenous Struggles” — Clare Land.
Clare Land is a non-Aboriginal person living on Kulin nation land. She has been an active supporter of Aboriginal struggles since 1998. She aims with this website to do justice to the education she has received from legendary local Aboriginal community activists Gary Foley and Robbie Thorpe in particular, by sharing it with others.
Well there you go folks. The more perspectives, the better. Feminists get annoyed at men for not recognising the gendered privilege they have for being white CIS dudes.
Let’s not be like them: only having to fight misogyny is a privilege.
I’m reading Throat, and have Too Much Lip, Talkin’ Up to the White Woman on my desk as we speak, and can’t wait to get through them. I plan on reviewing them for Shrews Untamed (there’ll be a blog in that too I reckon. Then, as you can see, there’s so much more delicious reading to be done.