Barbara Jefferis was an Australian Writer who was the first female president of the Australian Society of Authors. The Australian Society of Authors describes her thus: ‘Barbara Jefferis was a feminist, a founding member of the Australian Society of Authors, its first woman President and, in the words of Thomas Keneally, ‘a rare being amongst authors, being both a fine writer but also organisationally gifted. She was a professional and internationally published writer long before most of us dreamed of such things.’ You can read more about her in her obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Last Monday, I received an email from Andrew at Hague Publishing, telling me that Frontier Incursion was to be nominated for the Barbara Jefferis Award. For a moment, I was absolutely stunned, and then I felt honoured, emotional, and humbled, because ‘The Barbara Jefferis Award is offered for ‘the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society’.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I have a bit of a feminist bent. Actually, maybe more than just a bit. In a world that increasingly hyper-sexualises women and girls, and has a tendency to reduce them to the sum of their body parts, I feel the need to persistently campaign for the rights of women.
Why, you might ask? Surely women have achieved equality? Well, in some ways, yes we have, but in others, not so much.
Let me explain. If you’re a woman, you’re expected to look a certain way, behave a certain way, and wear certain clothes. Some of you reading this might be thinking “No you don’t, no you don’t, and you can wear what you want. That’s what ‘women’s lib’ was all about.” And to a certain extent, you’re right. It was. But reality has intervened, and somewhere along the way, something’s gone wrong.
When I’m not writing, I’m a physiotherapist. I work part time. Nearly every week, I meet several new, injured young women and girls. More and more often, in the course of their recovery from injury, I hear “Do you think I’m getting fat because I can’t do my normal exercise?” and “Do I still look alright?” Less and less am I hearing “When can I get back to the game?” It’s all buried under a concern about body shape and image. And these are usually sporting, fit, active young women – the ones you’d think would be most confident about their body image.
I’m in my late forties, and I’ve watched the numbers of women and girls playing sport past thirteen or fourteen years of age decline. I’ve watched those who continue to play, become obsessed not with their sport, but their bodies. I’ve seen less girls look forward to physical activity because of the clothing they’re required to wear, and I’ve seen the rise of ‘sports’ such as the Lingerie Football League be touted as ‘real sport’ but deny their competitors pay, protective clothing and injury protection, while serving up a visual spectacle full of boobs and butts and ‘accidental nudity.’
In television and media, there are few women presenters over a certain age, and the ones we do see, confirm to a narrow physical stereotype, and are usually caucasian. Media speculates about their weight, their clothes and their hair, and if they buck the mould, they’re thrown on the scrap heap. Singers and actors who are female, face endless scrutiny and disparaging remarks about their appearance, and are valued more for how they look rather than whether they’re actually good at their job. Even our previous Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, faced daily comments about her looks, rather than her policies.
This a post-feminist world. A world where the law says that we’re all equal, but a world where societal values have shifted to another extreme – that of the unspoken ‘female stereotype that all shall adhere to because if you don’t and your appearance doesn’t fit, then you’re not valuable.’ It’s not enshrined in law, but it is enshrined in social media and pop culture. This is the world that my female friends, my daughter, my mother, and my nieces, cousins and aunts inhabit. This is theoretically the world where women are equal. And they are, except when they’re not.
On Goodreads, I subscribe to a couple of threads on sexism. One looks at the lack of female authors reviewed in major publications, discusses how some female authors go by their initials rather than their names to encourage male readers to actually pick their books up, and looks at whether there are conscious or unconscious biases at play within the publishing industry. What century is this?
When I wrote Frontier Incursion, I deliberately wrote an egalitarian society – one where gender and race don’t matter, and for the most part, aren’t even mentioned. And then very deliberately again, I wrote my main protagonist as a young woman. She isn’t defined by her gender, it’s just part of her. It doesn’t hold her back or prevent her from doing anything at all. In fact, all that matters in terms of her career choices, are her competencies. I also chose not to add a romantic element to the story in the initial book, because she is not a girl who will ever be defined by her need for a relationship. Relationships do happen in real life, but usually they’re not instantaneous, and usually they’re about two people, not one.
So, as i finish this long winded hobby horse of a piece of writing and hop down off my soapbox, let me say that if one girl, just one, reads my work and says to herself “I’m a girl, so what? I’m valuable because I’m who I am. Not because of my looks, or my gender, but because I’m skilled, I work hard, and I can do the job,” then I’m happy, award or no award.
And many thanks to Andrew, at Hague Publishing, who saw what I wrote into Frontier Incursion, and thought it was worth a nomination. It means a lot to me.