RIDING THE WAVE

April 5, 2015

Sammi Taylor

Van Badham, writer for The Guardian and award winning playwright, talks feminism and young women with Sammi Taylor.

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There’s a new wave of feminists on the scene. They’re empowered by Taylor Swift and selfies. They’re passionate about gender equality, incredibly motivated to combat sexism and they’re already putting a few cracks in the glass ceiling. Most importantly, however, is that they’re around 14 and 15 years of age.

In October 2014, Banyule Youth Services invited 100 high school students to their annual youth forum to discuss the issues that mattered to them. An overwhelming number of young men and women highlighted gender inequality as an issue of concern. In response, Banyule Youth Services celebrated International Women’s Day 2015 with a young women’s forum; a place for youth to discuss feminism, health, body-image, relationships, social media and everything in between.

Over 70 young men and women were in attendance at Watermarc, Greensborough, eager to hear from the five panellists; Catherine Manning (SEED Workshops), Kate James (Banyule Youth Services), Amy Gray (freelance writer), Jess Barlow (Dear Holly) and Van Badham (writer and playwright).

Van Badham is an award-winning playwright, novelist and writer for The Guardian newspaper. Most importantly, however, she is an activist: passionate about equal rights.

Ms. Badham’s roots as a feminist stem from her early childhood relationship with her father, “My dad put a lot of time into bonding with me when I was a small child and I think that made a huge difference. He was just absolutely determined that my gender was not to get in the way. They [my parents] bought me an easel when I was three and amicroscope when I was five and they were like, ‘Maybe one day you’ll grow up to be an engineer, or a doctor!’ They always prioritised my education.”

“I don’t even know when I heard the word feminist for the first time but when I did I was like ‘Yep, way ahead of you all’.”DSC_0118

Badham’s extensive knowledge and fiery passion for gender equality issues command the attention of the whole room at the Banyule’s Young Women’s Forum. Rounds of applause are regular, as are eruptions of laughter. After the event concludes, as crowds are dwindling and chairs are being stacked around us, Ms. Badham emphasises to me the importance of young women, like myself, having feminist role models to look up to.

“It’s really important for young women to have feminist role models, because claiming the word ‘feminist’ is an acknowledgement that things are different and that there is disadvantage with the gender that you are born in. If you are born a woman, life will be different for you than it is for men.”

When artists like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé adopt the feminist label, and proudly say so at awards ceremonies, in interviews and on social media, more young women are encouraged to identify as feminists themselves, says Badham, “It is really important that women who are feminists claim the word, speak up for the politics, articulate the politics and are unafraid of making the acknowledgement of what is true.”

Gone are the days where ‘feminist’ was used an insult, synonymous with ‘hairy legs’ and ‘man-hater’. More youngwomen are fighting for their rights and calling out sexism when they see it. They’re speaking up for wage equality, fundraising to give women in developing countries an education, campaigning to end violence against women on home soil and female genital mutilation (FGM) overseas. Young feminists are proving themselves to be powerful women, and it’s a “girl gang” Badham says we should all be a part of.

“If the negative connotation [of feminism] is that people will be mean to you, that people will bully you, why do you care what those people think? People who bully are not worth your time or your respect. If you seriously think that boys won’t like you because you’re a feminist—because you stand up for yourself—the kind of boys you attract will be bastards and that’s the truth. Anyone who’s not a feminist is not interested in your opinion, your life, your rights or equality.”

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Such is the growing community of young feminists that gender equality and feminist clubs are popping up at high schools all over Victoria. Most notable are the Fitzroy Feminist High School Collective, who last year went viral with their campaign to create a gender equality teaching resource, subsequently raising over $12,000 to fund their project through Kickstarter.

“Just go for it,” is Badham’s advice for young women and men wanting to follow in their peers’ footsteps and start their own clubs, “Don’t wait for permission, don’t ask for permission. It’s not a feminist thing to do to ask for permission.”

“If you build the structure and then you dare authority to support it, you’ve automatically won. You start your own feminist club by saying to your allies and friends, ‘let’s just do it’. Let’s get together, let’s read feminist literature, let’s make t-shirts, let’s shoot a video. Why is everybody so obsessed with receiving the approval or the vindication of authority?”DSC_0096

One thing is for sure though; young women have to support each other and build each other up. “The girl gang is the greatest resource you will ever have,” Badham says, citing her own friendships formed through the feminist movement.

With so many young women engaged in the feminist conversation at the Banyule forum, it’s clear the girl gang is already out in force.

– Sammi Taylor

 

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