Reflecting about Women’s History Month, 2019 at Eltham Library.
Was it all a dream? It feels like it now. A dream of an absolutely brilliant day.
We started planning the Eltham Library’s now annual Women’s History Month Event after our second successful event in 2018. That year, we pulled back from my overly ambitious plan of the year before, when we had an event each weekend, and settled for a lovely day of panels with amazing authors: Kathryn Gauci, Kelly Gardiner, Kate Mildenhall, Glenice Whitting, Barbara Gaskell Denvil, Elizabeth Jane Corbett, Rachel Nightingale and Caroline Miley.
Now we have ticked off our third year, and I am just feeling grateful. I am feeling grateful to the Writing Department at Swinburne Unversity for their continued sponsorship and the wonderful staff (thank you Cath and Mel!) at Eltham Library who just do these things so brilliantly. I am feeling grateful to the inspiring authors who were part of the day: Stephanie Parkyn (Tas), author of ‘Into the World’, Anne Connor, author of ‘Two Generations’, Keep’, Eugen Bacon, author of ‘CLAIMING T-MO’, Sulari Gentill (NSW), award winning author of ‘Crossing the Lines’, and Lauren Chater (NSW), author of ‘The Lace Weaver’. I am grateful to the wonderful audience who came and supported the day. I was absolutely thrilled members of the audience added their own voices to each of our panels. The discussions were simply wonderful. I am also grateful to my students at Swinburne who helped out – either in the planning stage, or on the day. I really could not have done the day without all their help and support.
Holding events like this are important, and I will now tell you why. The idea for the Women’s History event at Eltham library first came about in 2016 because, once again, women writers were being ignored. Three major papers in the United Kingdom listed what they saw as the best history books written in that year, and the majority of these books were written by men. As you can imagine, these lists caused quite a stir in the writing world, and the hashtag #Historybooksbywomen was shared around twitter by writers, women and men, who wanted it known that these papers had it wrong. Very wrong. I am not alone in knowing many great writers who happen to be women – and who, too often, struggle to be simply recognized.
In 2019, this should not still be a problem, but it is. A survey by Macquarie University states “women make up approximately two-thirds of the author population” (Cited by the Stella Prize). In traditional publishing, the number is even higher: 72% female and 28% male (http://thestellaprize.com.au/the-count/2015-stella-count/).
Stats like this shout loud and clear the evidence of gender inequality entrenched in the writing world. Our women writers are NOT inferior to their male colleagues. Stats like this simply indicate far more women writers deserve to be valued and celebrated as writers of worth.
But, as Anne Connor, Sulari Gentill, Stephanie Parkyn and Lauren Chater illuminated during our ‘“You can’t do that!” The myth of gender roles in history’ panel, it is an undeniable fact society has a problem with empowered women, women who seize their voices and refuse silence. It is a problem which has gone on far too long. Too many centuries of women being pushed back by men. I do not apologise on Saturday for my question to this panel on Saturday if they thought men are frightened of women, and causing our one man to disappear from the audience. But I do wish he had stayed and given us his thoughts about this question.
Women do not want to rule the world – but we want equal leadership, equal voice.
I believe feminism is not only a way forward for women, but also for men.
I also believe we place too much emphasis on gender and we are well overdue to embrace new archetypes to re-write the narratives of the world. Inequality of women is a narrative that wounds us all. And we appear to be going backwards. Julie Bishop, who not long ago was Australia’s impressive Minister for Foreign Affairs as well as deputy leader of the Liberal Party, said recently about female representation in parliament:
“Australia started so well. Twenty years ago we were ranked 15th in the world in terms of female representation in our national parliament. Today we’re ranked 50th and numbers haven’t changed, it’s about 30 per cent, but so many other nations have increased their female representation in their parliaments.
“The issue of quotas versus targets is one that will continue for some time. The point is this, you need a critical mass of women to ensure that they can fulfil their ambitions.
“The talent is there. You might have to dig a little deeper, for women notoriously don’t put themselves forward, and women often think that somebody might be better in the role than they would be, under-selling their achievements in a way that men invariably do not do.”
This is a problem not only in politics, but one which involves every part of our society. Until we have a world where men and women walk side by side as equals, I do not believe we will move forward. We are all human. It is time to unite for the common good.
And it is time to value all writers – no matter their gender.