In the hour past I’ve watched on as my housemate attached a loose electrical chord to a plug, fitted a light bulb to a pesky fitting and turned an entire corner of our lounge bright with light.
I’d never take the time. And a good many might even wait for a man to do it for them.
But what I’ve seen today, and over a lifetime (of 29 years) has struck a chord and probably unknown to the people I was watching, shaped me into the feminist I am today.
A strident, proud feminist. One who keenly says it. Who believes in it. Who views the world through a lens shaped by it.
This is something I feel it’s time to share with each of you because there’s not enough of you out there who feel the same way.
And for the bloody life of me, I can’t see why.
My entire life I’ve been surrounded by capable Women.
The obvious starting point is my mother, but it actually starts before her with my grandmother and her four sisters. All educated, away from their home, and whom all became career Women. They were born from the 1930s, one after the other, and educated at a time when girls very rarely saw out secondary school. Luckily for them, their parents didn’t follow the trend of leaving education for the men.
Betwixt the five of them there was a publican, a radiographer, a nurse, a librarian and a business owner. Two of my great aunts also travelled extensively on their own, leaving Australia in the 1950s on ships bound for Canada and America where they worked and began their travels. All five turned the stereotype of Women at that time on its very stupid head.
To my mother. She has never been interested in a career. She actually dropped out of university, and worked many a job before staying put in her current role. This though, it’s never defined her. What has, is her capability. That’s what we know her for, expect from her, respect her for.
My parents are farmers. They do dirty work. In the hot Mallee sun and dust. With sheep and cattle. Drenching and drafting. Dealing with weeds and picking paddy melons. Swatting at flies. Cleaning paddocks and planting trees. They do this side-by-side; there’s no allowance for gender. They both just get stuck in and get stuff done.
This isn’t normal. Women don’t do farm work. And not with the aptitude, the strength, the willingness, the enjoyment, nor the ability that my mother has always shown.
She also does every single job around the house you can imagine. She cleans gutters and paints houses (inside and out). She mows, she trims edges, she sweeps. She shifts furniture. She climbs on the roof. She sprays ants. She renders houses and chops wood. She feeds the dogs and picks up poop. She puts out the bin and crawls under the house (even though she’s petrified of spiders) to attach pipes to washing machines. There’s no such thing as men’s jobs around my parent’s house because mum has already done them all.
My mother, turning stereotypes on their ridiculous and nonsensical heads.
I want to point out here, there were always men about in my formative years, wonderful men, remarkable in so many ways. But the Women I’ve just mentioned had a modest and unadorned stoicism that Has Just Stuck With Me and was actually bloody incredible to watch.
These were the earliest Women in my life.
And then I went to secondary school and had the honour of being taught by some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met: a Mrs Bath and a Ms Selmont; a Mrs Monaghan, a Mrs Boyd and a Mrs Allen. There were male teachers also, but none struck the note the Women did. And it wasn’t at that point a feminist leaning, it was the fact they were bloody good at what they did; they were competent, they were capable, they were smart and they were just better teachers. That’s what made them stand out.
And then I joined the work force and started to see some real gender stereotypes in play and what I’d learned, I’d gleaned and admired, was no longer so visible. I once saw a Woman ask a man to lift empty cardboard boxes and put them away for her. A Woman with two hands which could carry and knees which she could bend. I didn’t fathom it then, and I certainly don’t now.
The above was complimented the entire way along by a group of the best darned friends at school, at uni and in general and later life, as well as the development of an unflappable, rock solid relationship with my incredible sister.
Again, these friends and sister are a group of Women who mostly don’t need men to do anything for them. They have already gone and done it for themselves because they’re not the types to listen to the world about them tell them ‘you need a man for that’.
They fix electricity plugs and disassemble book shelves and shift fridges and build motors. They make funny jokes, they enjoy sport (or don’t), they punt and drink pints and listen to music. And yet when I see media and entertainment roll out women and groups of friends far too few possess any of the defining qualities I have just listed. My friends, staring stereotypes down.
Sure, I can hear some of you say ‘well I don’t see you lifting your fingers to do many of the above Sheena’ and you’re right. I don’t really. But that’s only because I’m not interested to, and nothing to do with being a Woman.
My point, the one I’m trying to make is: Women can do every single thing men can do and probably three-times better. The women in my life have proved that.
I have a high opinion of women. I rate them. I admire them. I like to be around them. You won’t ever hear me brag about being some guy’s ‘bestie’, or being treated ‘just like his little sister’.
That isn’t a badge I’m interested in wearing.
The one I am interested in wearing is the one that declares ‘I am a feminist’.
I don’t recognise the Women I see in the media, in entertainment and generally which society feeds back at us. These Women are defined and hamstrung by stereotypes and biases. And they aren’t the Women I surround myself with.
Those that I rub shoulders with, they’re Women who are the equal of men.
And that’s what makes me a feminist.
And if you believe you can go toe-to-toe with a man, and in your right to do so, well you’re one too.
So thank you, to those mentioned and those implied. You are very much appreciated.